Herbert Hoover From West Branch, IA

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 -- near Iowa City, IA

Yesterday, Monday, we pulled up the jacks and left Grant River COE near Potosi and pointed the nose of the bus-house southwestward. US Hwy 151 was our route for most of the journey to our next stop -- Colony Country Campground just north of Iowa City, only 112 miles away. This will be a short one night stop as we're squeezed between our desire to see the Herbert Hoover Historic Site and Museum (part of our "Dead Presidents" Tour) and the reality of the weather later this week, which is projected to be really crummy from Tuesday night through Friday. Checking our list of things to explore, there much more to do around Des Moines (I know... who'd 'a thunk!) so if we're going to be someplace for a few days with poor weather, the Des Moines area would be our preference.

Once at Colony Country, we unhooked the car, backed into a suitable site, locked up the bus-house, and immediately drove off to West Branch, IA, the home of the Herbert Hoover Museum. Arriving a little before 2:00pm, we had three hours to explore and learn about "Bert" Hoover.

Little Bert was born right here in West Branch in 1874 to a blacksmith Father and an intelligent educated Mom. Both were leaders in the little community and their Quaker church. For the first few years of his life, he lived in the little two room house that still exists here on the grounds of the Historic Site. There were 3 kids and he had one older brother and one younger sister.

Disease and death were always lurking in the shadows in these little growing frontier towns, and when Bert was only 6, his Father died. Then, tragically, when he was 9, his Mother died too. As was common then, the three orphans were taken in by other family. Eventually, when Bert was just 10, a decision was made to send Bert to Oregon to live with an uncle, whose own son had died a year earlier. So, with two dimes sewed into his pocket, and a small suitcase containing clothes and a few small memories of his Mom, he boarded a Union Pacific train headed west alone with his memories of the past and his fears of the future.

In Oregon he thrived in school and his native intelligence became apparent. School wasn't as structured in those early days and he didn't complete high school -- but he was accepted, in 1891, at age 17, to the first class ever at Leland Stanford Junior University (now Stanford University) in California, where he graduated in 1895 with a degree in geology. His interest in mining lead him to work for the next 20 years or so all over the world. He devised new methods and procedures that earned him a partnership in a London-based mining company. By the age of 28, he was making $34,000/year -- compared to the President of the United States who was earning only $10,000.

The fortune he made in mining made it possible for Bert to pursue other interests in public service. From the outbreak of WWI he led various efforts to assist refugees of war and feed the hungry of war-torn Europe. Always a proponent of volunteerism, he gave of his time without pay and donated much of his wealth to help others. During the 1920's he served as the Secretary of Commerce and was widely seen as  the most effective cabinet member during the Harding and Coolidge administrations. His experience in business and public service around the world made him a top-notch administrator.

Less than a year after being elected President in November of 1928 the stock market crash of 1929 marked the beginning of the Great Depression. He became a scapegoat and bore the brunt of blame. The reality is that the course leading to the depression was set many years prior. In response, he started some of the public works programs aimed at getting people back to work and righting the economy. I couldn't help but draw parallels to the current state of the economy as I read through the information on this period.

He languished in obscurity from the time he left the Presidency until the end of WWII. In 1946, President Truman called Bert back to service to determine the status of food supplies in war-torn Europe. In subsequent years he was an adviser to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. During his life he also wrote 16 books. He was an effective and compassionate leader.

Herbert Hoover died in October of 1964 at the age of 90. In a similar fashion to Truman, he wanted to return to his roots and be buried where he was born -- West Branch, IA. There the US Parks Service maintains the large, park-like, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and the National Archives and Records Administration maintains The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum -- one of the 12 Presidential Libraries in the United States.

There's a line in the theme song for the old TV show "All In The Family" that goes "Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again."



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