|Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States|
1. Born in Iowa in 1874, Herbert Clark Hoover would become the first U.S. president born west of the Mississippi River. His mother was Canadian by birth and his father worked as a blacksmith - his father died when he was still a toddler, and his mother died when he was 9 years old, making him an orphan. After living for a short time with his grandmother, and later an uncle, in Iowa, he was sent to live with another uncle - a frontier doctor - in Oregon. He never attended high school, although he learned enough on his own to enroll in the brand new Stanford University. As a member of Stanford's first class, Hoover would later claim to have been the actual first Stanford student, saying he was the first in his class to room in the school's dormitory. He graduated with a degree in Geology.
2. In 1897, Hoover got a job with a London-based gold mining company that operated out of Australia. He would live in Australia for the next three years, later becoming the lead engineer for the company's China operations. In 1899, he married Lou Henry, and the couple had two sons. His wife had also graduated with Stanford with a degree in geology, the only woman in her class. By 1901, Hoover became a partner in the corporation and moved back to the United States. In 1908, he sold his shares and set out on his own. He quickly became an enormously wealthy mining magnate, with operations on every continent in the world.
3. After the start of World War I, Hoover found himself becoming heavily involved in civilian humanitarian aid. He became a chief organizer of getting food and rations into war-ravaged Europe, and was eventually named by Woodrow Wilson to lead the U.S. Food Administration, which worked to ensure that enough foodstuffs could be sent to American soldiers overseas. His efforts included widespread domestic programs to encourage Americans to eat more frugally, so there would be plenty left to send to Europe. These promotions included things like "Meatless Mondays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays." His efforts succeeded; the U.S. never had to institute domestic rationing, and American soldiers overseas remained well fed.
4. After the war was over, Hoover dedicated himself to aiding the millions of Europeans, particularly in Germany and Russia, who were left in poverty by the war. Criticized by some for "aiding Bolshevism" in Russia, Hoover refused to back down, arguing that regardless of political differences, starving people deserved to be fed. During the height of the Russian famine in 1921 and 1922, his organization helped bring food to more than 10 million people every single day. He was later recognized in Russia for his humanitarian efforts, and was named one of the Ten Most Important Living Americans by the New York Times.
5. Following his rise to prominence, Hoover was courted by both parties as a potential candidate. Woodrow Wilson, under whom Hoover had obtained his first political appointment, wanted Hoover to run on the Democratic ticket in 1920 to succeed him to the White House. Hoover, however, had long been a registered Republican, and felt that the Republicans had a better chance of winning the White House in 1920 than the Democrats. As such, Hoover ran as a candidate in the Republican primary in California. Failing to win his home state, however, he backed out of the race, and later endorsed Warren G. Harding, who would go on to win the nomination and later the general election.
6. After winning the presidency, Harding rewarded Hoover by naming him the head of the Department of Commerce. He remained in this position throughout the 20's, serving under Harding, and later Calvin Coolige. As Commerce Secretary, Hoover instituted drastic changes in the department, turning it from a small, relatively new cabinet post with ambiguous responsibilities, to one of the most prominent and politically-active departments in the entire cabinet. Throughout the 20's, Hoover was jokingly referred to as the "Secretary of Commerce," and the "Under-Secretary of Everything Else." Among other things, he promoted home ownership and the budding Hollywood film industry.
7. In 1927, Hoover appeared on the first television broadcast in U.S. history. Standing before a camera in Washington, his image and words were transmitted to an AT&T laboratory in New York. Newspapers all over the country reported on this new invention, with the New York Times stating that it was as if a photograph of Hoover had come to life and begun to speak and smile and move.
8. In 1928, Hoover's boss, President Coolige, opted not to run for re-election, and Hoover became the immediate front runner, easily winning the Republican nomination, and then defeating his Democratic challenger in a landslide, garnering 58% of the vote. He became the only president in U.S. history who had never held an elected or executive political office, or held a high military ranking (William Howard Taft also never held elected office or high military rank, but he had served as the governor of both Cuba and the Phillippines, a position to which he was appointed). His campaign platform had included pointing to his own success in business and humanitarian efforts, as well as a promise to continue the policies of his predecessors. He famously stated, during the campaign: "...Given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years...we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this Nation." Famous. Last. Words.
9. Shortly after taking office in 1929, the stock market crashed, and the United States was plunged into the worst economic disaster in its history. Though this was certainly not the direct fault of Hoover, the existing policies he supported were, in many ways, partially to blame for the collapse, and Hoover's efforts to bring the country back to prosperity fell short of the goal. Hoover effectively became the face of the Great Depression. Shantytowns that sprang up among out-of-work laborers were called Hoovervilles. "Hoover Blankets" were newspapers used by poor people to keep warm on the streets. If someone turned their pockets out to demonstrate their poverty, they were called "Hoover Flags." "Hoover Wagons" referred to the numerous rusting, broken down cars that people could no longer afford to maintain. With his party in tatters, Hoover was able to secure renomination in 1932, but lost in a landslide to newcomer Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hoover's loss was the most lopsided defeat ever suffered by an incumbent president. He won only 6 states, and failed to gain even 40% of the popular vote.
10. Hoover is the only president in U.S. history who has two celestial bodies named after him - Herberta, an asteroid, and Hooveria, one of numerous minor planets orbiting the sun. The Hoover Dam was also named after him, as its construction was begun during his presidency. When the name was made official in 1935, it brought a significant amount of controversy. After his presidency, Hoover lived for another 31 years, the longest-serving ex-president in history. Later this year, he will be surpassed by Jimmy Carter. Carter and Hoover also have several other similarities. Both were engineers by trade (the only two engineers to ever reach the White House), and both presided over economic woes that ultimately cost them re-election. Both are also widely known as unsurpassed humanitarians, but poor presidents. Finally, Carter and Hoover are the most prolific writers among American presidents. To date, Carter has written more than 20 books, while Hoover published 16. Hoover died in October, 1964, having outlived his wife by more than 20 years. They are both buried in Hoover's hometown of West Branch, Iowa.