Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) was an American engineer, businessman and politician who served as the 31st President of the United States from 1929 to 1933 during the Great Depression. A Republican, as Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s he introduced themes of efficiency in the business community and provided government support for standardization, efficiency and international trade. As president from 1929 to 1933, his domestic programs were overshadowed by the onset of the Great Depression. Hoover was defeated in a landslide election in 1932 by Democratic Franklin D. Roosevelt. After this loss, Hoover became staunchly conservative, and advocated against Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.
A lifelong Quaker, he became a successful mining engineer with a global perspective. He built an international reputation as a humanitarian by leading international relief efforts in Belgium during World War I, 1914-1917. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917 he became “food czar” as head of the U.S. Food Administration with charge of much of the nation’s food supply and a massive advertising campaign to help consumers adjust and save. He worked well with President Woodrow Wilson and the cabinet, and gained a large national audience. After the war, he led the American Relief Administration, which provided food to the inhabitants of Central Europe and Eastern Europe. Hoover was popular among progressives as a potential candidate in the 1920 presidential election, but his candidacy quickly petered out. Republican Warren G. Harding won and appointed Hoover as Secretary of Commerce. Hoover was an unusually active and visible cabinet member, becoming known as “Secretary of Commerce and Under-Secretary of all other departments.” Hoover won the Republican nomination in 1928, and defeated Democrat Al Smith in a landslide. Hoover avoided the anti-Catholicism that hurt Smith, but in a time of peace and prosperity his success was highly likely.
The Great Depression was the central issue of his presidency, starting with the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. There were occasional upswings but more frequent downswings until the economy verged on disaster in 1931-33, along with most of the industrial world. Hoover pursued a variety of policies in an attempt to lift the economy, but opposed direct federal relief efforts until late in his tenure. He asked business and labor leaders to avoid wage cuts and work stoppages, and raised taxes in the hope of balancing the budget. In 1930, he reluctantly approved the Smoot–Hawley Tariff, which sent foreign trade spiraling down. The economy kept falling, and the unemployment rate rose to 25%, with heavy industry, mining, and wheat and cotton farming hit especially hard. In 1932, Hoover signed a major public works bill and established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was designed to provide government loans to banks, railroads and big businesses in danger of failing. The downward economic spiral, along with violent dispersal of the Bonus Army, set the stage for Hoover’s overwhelming defeat by Roosevelt, who promised a New Deal.
Hoover became a conservative spokesman in opposition to the domestic and foreign policies of Roosevelt. He opposed entry into the Second World War and was not called on to serve in any public role during the war. He had better relations with President Harry S. Truman, and Hoover helped produce a number of reports that changed U.S. occupation policy in Germany. Truman also appointed Hoover to head the Hoover Commission, intended to foster greater efficiency throughout the federal bureaucracy, and Hoover served on a similar commission under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. By the time of his death in 1964, he had rehabilitated his image. Nevertheless, Hoover is generally not ranked highly in historical rankings of Presidents of the United States.