Herbert Hoover Takes the Helm Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Herbert Hoover was, in many ways, a government man, even while he also was a self-made millionaire. He began as a mining engineer, gaining experience on several engineering projects abroad, and then came to head Allied relief operations in World War I. When the United States entered the war, he became chief of food distribution, observing that “food will win the war.” Then came successive appointments as secretary of Commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations, where he reorganized the department and established divisions for the regulation of broadcasting and aviation. He headed commissions to construct the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam). He was even suspected by some in his own party to have absorbed the political philosophy of progressivism, as exemplified by Woodrow Wilson. In his 1928 campaign for president, Hoover spoke of the “constructive side of government” (a speech included here) and how it could lead to a “new day” of strength and prosperity for the nation. In the election of that year he soundly defeated his Democratic opponent, Al Smith.

Herbert Hoover was, in many ways, a government man, even while he also was a self-made millionaire. He began as a mining engineer, gaining experience on several engineering projects abroad, and then came to head Allied relief operations in World War I. When the United States entered the war, he became chief of food distribution, observing that “food will win the war.” Then came successive appointments as secretary of Commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations, where he reorganized the department and established divisions for the regulation of broadcasting and aviation. He headed commissions to construct the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam). He was even suspected by some in his own party to have absorbed the political philosophy of progressivism, as exemplified by Woodrow Wilson. In his 1928 campaign for president, Hoover spoke of the “constructive side of government” (a speech included here) and how it could lead to a “new day” of strength and prosperity for the nation. In the election of that year he soundly defeated his Democratic opponent, Al Smith.

Hoover served in office barely six months before the stock market crash of 1929 occurred and the country sank into the Great Depression. At first Hoover tried to blame the crash on excessive speculation in the stock market and assumed that trading would return to normal once this momentary, cyclical event had played itself out. He was loath to accept any government intervention. The same held true as the Depression took root and caused widespread disruption and deprivation. Hoover held true to his commitment to laissez-faire capitalism and American individualism as sources of renewal, arguing that the best thing government can do is to work with business to restore confidence in the economy. He vetoed projects to create an unemployment agency and to launch public works projects. He remained rather optimistic about the economy’s ability to turn itself around until the end, when he was defeated (1932) for reelection in a landslide by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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