Born August 10, 1874 in West Branch, Iowa, Herbert "Bert" Hoover was the middle of three children whose parents were Quakers. His father, Jesse, was a blacksmith. The Hoover children spent their early years growing up in West Branch, Iowa. West Branch provided both joys and hazards of life. The children could hike, explore, and swim as well as hunt for fossils and agate in the glacial gravel along the railroad tracks. Their Quaker upbringing forbade the Hoover boys from carrying a gun, so they learned to hunt for rabbit and prairie chickens with bow and arrow. They learned these skills from young Indian boys who were attending a local government training school. Willow poles, butcher string lines and hooks that cost a penny apiece provided Herbert Hoover with sunfish and catfish. There was also Cook's Hill for sledding on home-made sleds.
On December 13, 1880, Jesse Hoover died at the age of 34. Hulda and the children remained in West Branch, where she earned money working as a seamstress. She occasionally boarded Herbert with Uncle Will Miles. On February 24, 1884, Herbert Hoover's mother died at 35. Hulda Hoover left more than $2000 for the education of her children. The children were separated: May went to live with Grandmother Minthorn, Tad went to Hubbard, Iowa and later to Newberg, Oregon with Uncle John Minthorn, and Herbert stayed on a farm outside of West Branch, Iowa for about a year with his uncle Allan Hoover. In 1885, Herbert also went to live with the Minthorn family in Oregon. Uncle Henry John Minthorn was a doctor in the Quaker settlement of Newberg, Oregon. His only son had died, and so the Minthorns asked for Herbert to be sent to them.
After quitting high school in order to work in his uncle's real estate office, Herbert Hoover began to think about a career in engineering. He began with the study of geology at Stanford University, with the idea of becoming a mining engineer. There he met Lou Henry, and they were married in 1899.
After graduation, Hoover worked for a San Francisco engineering firm, and later took a job with an English mining company to run their gold mines in Australia and China. At age 27, Hoover was made a partner in the company, and began to travel the world, visiting the company's mines and searching for new ones. Herbert Hoover traveled around the world five times in five years. The Hoovers had two sons during that time, Herbert Jr. and Allan.
In 1908, Herbert Hoover started his own engineering business. His company specialized in reorganizing failing companies, hunting for new mining prospects, and finding investors to pay for developing the best mines. Hoover's consulting firm employed 175,000 workers all over the world, with offices in England, France, Russia, San Francisco and New York City. He soon became known as the "Great Engineer."
In August, 1914, the Hoovers were living in London. As war broke out in Europe, thousands of American tourists flooded into London trying to book passage back to the states. The US Embassy asked Hoover to help with these stranded American travelers. Hoover headed the Committee of American Residents in London for Assistance to American Travelers. This committee accommodated over 120,000 Americans. Besides loaning stranded Americans funds, the committee helped get them passage on ships, and in the meantime helped them get food and lodging in England. This committee made loans and IOUs totaling over one million dollars. All but $300 of this amount was repaid.
Next Hoover turned to a far more difficult task, to feed Belgium, which had been overrun by the German army. After the United States entered the war, President Wilson appointed Hoover head of the Food Administration. He succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed.
After the Armistice, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration, organized shipments of food for starving millions in central Europe. He extended aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia in 1921. When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!"
After capably serving as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Hoover became the Republican Presidential nominee in 1928. He said then: "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land." His election seemed to ensure prosperity. Yet within months the stock market crashed, and the Nation spiraled downward into depression. After the crash Hoover announced that while he would keep the Federal budget balanced, he would cut taxes and expand public works spending.
In 1931 repercussions from Europe deepened the crisis, even though the President presented to Congress a program asking for creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to aid business, additional help for farmers facing mortgage foreclosures, banking reform, a loan to states for feeding the unemployed, expansion of public works, and drastic governmental economy. At the same time he reiterated his view that while people must not suffer from hunger and cold, caring for them must be primarily a local and voluntary responsibility.
His opponents in Congress, who he felt were sabotaging his program for their own political gain, unfairly painted him as a callous and cruel President. Hoover became the scapegoat for the Depression and was badly defeated in 1932. In the 1930's he became a powerful critic of the New Deal, warning against tendencies toward statism.
In 1947 President Truman appointed Hoover to a commission, which elected him chairman, to reorganize the Executive Departments. He was appointed chairman of a similar commission by President Eisenhower in 1953. Many economies resulted from both commissions' recommendations. Over the years, Hoover wrote many articles and books, one of which he was working on when he died at 90 in New York City on October 20, 1964.