Since my mom got us hooked on Presidential Libraries and Museums, we've been trying to make our way to all of them. Hoover's Presidential Library, the oldest president in the system, was our eighth of thirteen to visit. It's an older library, however it is charming and worth visiting if not for the museum, than for the town where it's located: West Branch, IO.
I really didn't know much about Herbert Hoover before we decided to add his Presidential Library to our last family road trip. Since my mom and I love to read, we thought it might be good to read up a little on our 31st president to help us enjoy his museum even more. I found this short biography on his life and we read through it together on the kindle.
He really has quite an amazing story.
Hoover's Early Years
While Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa, he only lived there until he was ten. His father died when he was six, and when Hoover turned 9, his mother died too. The original family home is down the street from the museum and it is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
The other buildings available for touring are his father's blacksmith shop and the old school house. It is always fascinating to me to see the humble beginnings of some of America's great leaders.
I'm sure Herbert got some of his ingenuity from his father. After he was orphaned, he moved out to Oregon to live with an uncle. In 1891, he entered Stanford University as a member of it's very first class of students. It was there that he met the love of his life and then launched into a mining career that took him around the world.
Money Isn't Everything
Hoover's drive and determination opened up doors for him to go from extremely humble beginnings to making a couple of lifetimes worth of wealth. However, the jobs were difficult, travel was exhausting, and money was unsatisfying. He shifted his focus to helping others and that is where Hoover's legacy began.
After the outbreak of World War I, Hoover helped many Americans return home from London. He also raised funds and gathered food to help feed the starving Belgium people. In a crisis, Hoover was at his best.
Due to his incredible ability to coordinate goods and people, he was appointed the Secretary of Commerce under President Harding in 1921. While he held this position he helped standardize all kinds of things from car parts to building materials in an effort to minimize waste.
His position continued to open doors for him to help people in dire need. In 1927 the Mississippi River flooded, which was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States. Hoover coordinated relief efforts and became known as a man who could get things done. His next stop would be the White House.
Unfortunately there are some circumstances that can derail even the most productive people. Hoover took office in March of 1929 and the stock market crashed in October of the same year.
His go-to tactics were not enough to turn the economy around and his popularity fell with the market. Even though he put many systems in place to help hold the country together in his reelection campaign, the votes stacked up for his opponent, F.D. Roosevelt. The depression lasted another seven years after Hoover left office.
Down but Not Out
While Hoover was no longer president, he still loved serving his country. He became active in the Boys Club of America and moved his home and office to the Waldorf Towers in New York City to stay active in the political scene.
When World War II hit, President Truman sought out the great humanitarian to help him with the European food crisis. Hoover was back in action doing what he did best: serving people in dire need.
At 71 years old, Hoover traveled over 35,000 miles through 38 countries in 52 days to assess food shortages. He continued to work to cut waste—Do more with Less—was his theme. And he continued to do more serving through the Truman and Eisenhower administrations.
Coming Back Home
When he was 88 years old, his presidential library was dedicated in his home town of West Branch, Iowa. He died two years later. You can see his grave site just down from the museum and overlooking his childhood home.
I think what endeared us to this man and his legacy was his humble beginnings. The town of West Branch is really a place that is warm and welcoming and just makes you want to take life at a little slower pace. Not that Hoover learned that, but his care for people stemmed from this place and he had a great passion for doing just that.
There is just something fun about experiencing another town's vibrant main street atmosphere. If you happen to be traveling through, you really need to visit Hoover's Presidential Museum.