Herbert Hoover on Leadership

Herbert Hoover


Herbert Hoover was the greatest hero of World War I. He was bigger than Sergeant York, General Pershing, and Father Francis of the Fighting Sixty-ninth regiment of America; and the generals of foreign lands. Hoover was called the Great Engineer in affection for saving millions of lives during and after World War I. Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in 1920 before Hover made his political affiliations known: "[Hoover] is certainly a wonder, and I wish we could make him President. There couldn't be a better one.".

Lesson No. 1: Be a Role Model

Herbert Hoover was born the son of an Iowa blacksmith. He became an orphan at the age of eight. Hoover was sent to live with an uncle in Oregon who helped Hoover go to Stanford University in California to become a mining engineer. Hoover began working in California mines as an ordinary laborer. Soon he directed a new gold mining venture in Australia. During the next two decades, he traveled through much of Asia, Africa, and Europe as a mining engineer who became a millionaire several times over.

Traveling around, he saw American as a good place for the individual to get ahead. Throughout his life, he and his wife were personally involved in philanthropic enterprises such as the Boys Clubs of America and the Girl Scouts of America as well as giving their money. A Pulitzer prize-winning cartoon of the 1920s showed Herbert Hoover as the personification of democracy itself as he rose from poor, humble orphan to millionaire and public servant -- the Secretary of Commerce.

Lesson No. 2: Be persistent

Hoover graduated from Stanford in 1895 with $40 to his name and a degree in geology in a midst of a depression. Hoover found a job, pushing a car deep in the tunnels of a California mine. Then he found a job as a typist for a San Francisco engineering firm. The head of the company promoted Hoover to engineering jobs and then encouraged him to work as an engineer in the Australian gold mines. When Hoover got a hefty raise, he sent a cable to his former classmate, Lou Henry: It read, "Will you marry me?" Hoover sailed back to California and married Lou Henry on February 10, 1899.

Lesson No. 3: Trust People

Herbert Hoover was in London when World War I broke out in August 1914. As a Quaker who believed in peace, he was shocked by the human costs of the war. He decided to devote his life to public service. He and his wife lent Americans $1,500,000 to pay for their passage home from England and lost only $300.

Lesson No. 4: Share a vision

Hoover said, "We want to see a nation built of homeowners and farm owners... To see their savings protected... We want to see them in steady jobs...Want them all secure... I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope."

Lesson No. 5: Seek Cooperation

Hoover was a progressive who believe government should encourage responsible cooperation between workers and owners while making laws to prevent abuses like monopolies. Hoover felt that social problems would be solved like engineering problems -- relying not on tradition but on facts and logic.

President Woodrow Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to mobilize food for the war effort in America. Hoover relied on the voluntary cooperation of the American people to conserve food. He used advertising to gain people's cooperation. Despite two bad harvests in a row, his policy worked and he tripled the export of food.

As Secretary of Commerce, Hoover attacked problems by calling conferences. He summons experts and leaders in Washington to take over problems such as unemployment, farm surpluses, child health, aviation, or water pollution. The next step would be to generate publicity for conference results. this would educate the public and put pressure on the business, industry, and logical government to take action.

Herbert Hoover convinced seven western states to work together

Herbert Hoover convinced seven western states to work together on building a huge dam, now called Hoover Dam, on the Colorado River. Hoover persuaded the steel industry to go from twelve to eight-hour workdays. He got them to cut the workday for fear of bad publicity. Herbert Hoover organized rescue efforts for the Mississippi River flood of 1927.

No president before Hoover had felt the government needed to do much about depression. Hoover would not stand by and watch the economy sink. He was confident that his ideas of voluntary cooperation and scientific management had worked in crises before and would work again. Congress passed Hoover's Agricultural Marketing Act to help farmers set up selling cooperatives and to set up the Federal Farm Board to control surplus and keep the food supply steady. Hoover warned against speculation in the stock market. Hoover believed that the government should help people help themselves.

Ironically, many of FDR's New Deal ideas originated in the Hoover presidency. When a friend once said to Hoover, "I have a suspicion that you would have signed practically all the legislation that F.D.R. signed." Hoover answered, "I think I would have."

Lesson No. 6: Show Compassion

Hoover managed to get governments and people often very hostile to one another to work together for the benefit of humanity. By 1914, Hoover was looking for a chance to act on his beliefs in some kind of public service. The plight of Belgium in World War I gave him the opportunity. Hoover headed the Commission for Relief in Belgium. This commission fed 10,000,000 people during World War I. When the war ended in November 1918, directed to the American Relief Administration that saved over 20,000,000 people from starvation in Europe.

Hoover and Wilson protested the Allies' food blockade against the Germans once World War I was over. One British admiral remarked to Hoover, "Young man, I don't understand why you Americans want to feed these Germans." Hoover replied bluntly, "Old man, I don't understand why you British want to starve women and children after they are licked." The food blockade was lifted in March 1919.

Hoover raised funds for Stanford University, especially for the University's Hoover Institution on War, revolution, and Peace, a research library he had founded in his Belgian relief days. He gave Stanford his tremendous collection of documents that he garnered in Europe during World War I.

Instead of multiplying his fortune of several million dollars during World War I, he confided to a close friend, "Let the fortune go to hell." In 1923, an astronomer named an asteroid after him in tribute to what he had achieved. Hoover saw the U.S. as an island of moral leadership in a bloodstained world.

Lesson 7: Get the Word out or don't be too modest

In 1928, Hoover was elected President during a period of great prosperity. A year later, the nation entered a period of unemployment known as the Great Depression. Hoover did more than any president before him to fight unemployment. Congress passed his programs of public works to employ more people, to aid business, to help farmers avoid losing their farms, and to give a loan to states for feeding the unemployed. Hoover asked businesses not to lay off people. He called conferences to try to solve the economic issues of the day.

Hoover personally gave to help people but did not publicize this. In 1930, Henry L. Stimson commented on Herbert Hoover: underneath his shyness, [Hoover] is so sensitive and really human that it is a tragedy that he cannot, apparently, make that side of his nature felt in his public contacts." Hoover refused to let newspapers write about his human side. What people did see were the formal-dress dinner parties that he and his wife Lou hosted night after night. As a bashful orphan, he had learned to keep personal feelings to himself.

Lesson No. 8: Be Innovative

Hoover part the Department of Commerce on the cutting edge of technology during his seven years of administration. Lighthouses used radio beacons to signal ships, made sure radio stations didn't overlap, started hosting annual radio conferences, and urged to post office to send mail across the country in airplanes. He made flying after by require all runways to have landing lights. In 1927, Herbert Hoover appeared on television.


A Quaker friend said of him in a simple eulogy, "He has worked hard; he has been very brave; he has endured."

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