The Great Depression: Hoover and FDR (1893-1932)
  1. Historiography
  2. Early Life and Stanford
  3. Mining Career
  4. Belgium
  5. Wartime Food Administrator
  6. "Whatever their politics, they will be fed."
  7. Cabinet Secretary
  8. Al Smith Runs for President
  9. Herbert Hoover becomes President
  10. Hoover and the Great Depression
  11. Dissatisfaction with Hoover's Response
  12. The Bonus March
  13. Election of 1932
  14. Lesson Plans
  15. Power Point
Utilizing the new field of rhetorical historiography, this monograph focuses on the relationship between the spoken word of Hoover and Roosevelt and economic recovery. His central thesis is that American economic recovery was predicated in part on the confidence inspired by Hoover and Roosevelt. In the process, he examines the relationship between the Presidents’ economic rhetoric and the subsequent influence it had on the American economy. For Houck, Hoover was a more polished rhetorician but failed to inspire confidence, while Roosevelt, more complex but contradictory, was not as skillful but managed to make the American people feel more secure.

Davis W. Houck, Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression, (College Station: Texas A &M University Press, 2001).

This article probes the role of military veterans in the context of the New Deal and the Depression. The Economy Act, passed in 1934, greatly cut veterans benefits led to political criticism of the Roosevelt Administration. As the Veterans of Foreign Wars found powerful support among noteables like Huey Long and Charles Coughlin, it became clear that these veterans poised a political obstacle to the New Deal. In the process of the author demonstrates that veterans often present a problem to democratic governments. While they are revered by society at large for their military service, veterans demand benefits that can be difficult to fulfill, particularly in times of economic crisis.

Stephen R. Ortiz, “The New Deal for Veterans: The Economy Act, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Origins of New Deal Dissent,” The Journal of Military History, V. 70, N. 2, April 2006, p. 415-438.

Early Life and StanfordTop
Herbert Hoover was born to a modest family in West Branch, Iowa in 1874. By the time Herbert was ten years old, both of his parents had died, leaving him to live with relatives in Oregon. Hoover was enormously bright, but somewhat listless in his young adult life. Eventually, he found his place in the inaugural class at Stanford University where he studied geology.
Hoover’s wife, the former Lou Henry, was athletic and brilliant. She was the first woman to graduate from Stanford and met Herbert in the geology lab. Lou Hoover spoke five languages, assisted her husband in his geology and engineering work, often translating his articles and books. She was a world traveler and often assisted her husband in the cultural necessities for international business.

In the surveying team photo, Hoover is seated at the lower left.

Question to consider:
1. How unusual would Lou Hoover’s activities be in a Victorian time?
2. How difficult would have it have been for her to find outlets to express her athletic and intellectual interests?

     hoovers in 1930.JPG
     hoover and stanford surveying team.JPG
The photograph of Herbert and Lou Hoover in 1930 was found at
The photograph of Hoover and the Stanford sureveying team was found at
Mining CareerTop
After graduating from Stanford, the Hoovers began a mining career that would take them to China, Australia, and, eventually, England. Herbert made a specialty of turning around struggling operations with organization and technology while his wife helped translate his work and bridge the cultural gaps in foreign nations. Their work made them wealthy.
In addition to building their wealth, foreign trips exposed the Hoovers to human suffering. They were forced to flee China for a time during the Boxer Rebellion, an insurrection aimed at purging the nation of western influence. While in London, at the outbreak of the First World War, the Hoovers organized an impromptu organization to evacuate expatriated and vacationing Americans from Europe.

The photograph below is of Lou Hoover during the Boxer Rebellion in China.

     lou hoover during boxer rebellion.JPG
The photograph of Mrs. Hoover was found at
At the outbreak of the First World War, Germany invaded Belgium on the way France. Rather than accept the invasion, tiny Belgium fought the massive German army which, in the ensuing battle, devastated the country. As the war progressed, Britain and France placed a blockade on the Central Powers which kept them from importing food. Germany no longer had enough food for its own population, let alone occupied countries such as Belgium. Unable to produce its own food or rely on its captors, Belgium starved.
Hoover, living in London, organized his entire mining firm as a relief operation for Belgium. Hoover negotiated with the Allied nations to allow the relief ships through the blockade and negotiated with the Germans to not attack the ships with submarines. To demonstrate their neutrality, Hoover’s relief ships even flew their own flags. Following the war, the headline in a Belgian newspaper was, “Thank God for Hoover.”

The photographs below show the devastation. The first is a picture of Belgium during the war. The second a photograph of Hoover himself with flour sacks. The third a photograph of a warehouse full of flour for the starving Belgians.

     Belgium during war.JPG
     hoover with food bags.jpg
     flour in warehouse.jpg
The photograph of Belgium during the war was found at
The photograph of Hoover with flour sacks was found at
The photograph of flour in warhouse was found at
Wartime Food AdministratorTop
When the United States entered the war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, viewing Hoover’s success in Belgium, placed Hoover in charge of agricultural production for the American war effort. Hoover was immediately successful. In addition to rationalizing the American production system, Hoover convinced Americans that it was patriotic to go without in war time. Cutting back became known as “Hooverizing,” a phrase used with bitter irony during the Depression. Rationing was one way that World War I affected people on the home front. Seeking to manage domestic consumption in order to feed the U.S. Army and to assist Allied armies and civilians., the U.S. Food Administration declared “Food Will Win the War.”

The first two images below are posters promoting the push for agricultural production during the war. The first draws attention to Hoover's position, while the second is a more direct call to action for the American People. The final document is a transcript of a conversation. In this droll reminiscence, Ethel George recalled one kind of home-front conservation effort: the hard work of chewing whole-grain foods. Born in 1903, George told her story to John Terreo, who interviewed her for the New Deal Oral History Project of the Montana Historical Society.

Question to consider:
1. How did "Hooverizing" effect common people?

     hoover cartoon.jpg
     WWI poster.jpg
     Hard Chewing Transcript.rtf  
The Hoover poster was found at
The Defeat the Kaiser poster was found at
The Hard chewing transcript was found at
"Whatever their politics, they will be fed."Top
Following the war, Hoover turned the United States Food Administration into a relief organization for the devastated populations, including the defeated Central Powers, in Europe. American aid fed two million people per day in Poland alone.

When a critic accused Hoover of helping the Bolsheviks by providing food aid to the Soviet Union, Hoover responded in the following speech, “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they will be fed.”
A photograph of Hoover posing with Polish children follows below. The second photograph shows the European Relief Council at work. The third image is a poster encouraging people not to waste food. The fourth image persuades people to continue saving food.

Questions to consider:
1. Why do you think Hoover maintained his stance on food distribution amidst criticism?

     Herbert Hoover on Polish Infrastructure.rtf  
     hoover with children.jpg
     Hoover oversees relief supplies.JPG
     waste food.jpg
     dont stop.jpg
Hoover's statement on post-war conditions in Poland was found at
The photograph of Hoover posing with Polish children was found at
The photograph of Hoover overseeing relief supplies was found at
The Don't Waste Food poster was found at
The Don't Stop Saving Food poster was found at
Cabinet SecretaryTop
With a reputation for being one of the most capable men in Washington, it was no great surprise when Hoover was invited to serve in the cabinet as Secretary of Commerce of Republican President Warren G. Harding. Hoover accepted and served Harding as Commerce Secretary from 1921 until the President’s death in 1923. While many members of the Harding cabinet were implicated in controversies and scandals, Hoover remained unscathed and, thus, retained his post under Calvin Coolidge.
In the years following the First World War, the American economy was transformed. In the 1920 census, for the first time, the United States was a majority urban country. This meant that industry and commerce, rather than agriculture, now provided the backbone of the American economy. Additionally, during the 1920’s, Americans began to embrace electronic consumer goods and the automobile.

As Commerce Secretary, Hoover was in the middle of the economic transformation, leading to the impression, that Herbert Hoover was everywhere. The first image below, a political cartoon, demonstrates that notion.
Of the many products that came to be available during this time a couple are shown below. The second image is a 1920 Model T. The third image is an advertisement for an early washing machine. The final document included below is a letter of thanks written from a Kansas housewife to Thomas Edison.

Question to consider:
1. Why do the 1920’s seem like the first recognizably modern decade?

     The Traffic Problem in Washington DC.JPG
     1920 model T.jpg
     washing machine.jpg
     letter to edison.JPG
The traffic problem in DC cartoon from, Joan Hoff Wilson, "Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive." Waveland Press, 1975.
1920 Ford Model T:
Electric Washing Machine ad:
Letter to Edison from Kansas housewife:
Al Smith Runs for PresidentTop
The Election of 1928 was notable primarily because, as a Catholic, Democratic nominee Al Smith was the first non-Protestant to be nominated for President by a major political party. Many Americans were highly suspicious of Catholics in high office, primarily because of their fealty to the Pope. As practicing Catholics are obliged, in principle, to obey the pope, some feared that election of a Catholic would effectively abdicate American government to the Vatican. The nomination of Smith also represented a shift of control in the Democratic Party away from rural, Protestant, agrarians, such as William Jennings Bryan, to urban interests.

The first document below is Al Smith's acceptance of the Democratic nomination. The second document is a photograph of Al Smith in 1928.

Questions to consider:
1. How does Smith attempt to deal with concerns over his Catholicism in his Democratic nomination acceptance speech?

     Al Smith Accepts Democratic Nomination for President transcript.rtf  
Al Smith accepting the nomination was found at
The photograph of Al Smith in 1928 was found at
Herbert Hoover becomes PresidentTop
Hoover, who was freed to run for the presidency when Calvin Coolidge declined to seek reelection, easily dispatched with Smith, who even failed to carry his home state of New York. The nation was at peace, was prosperous, and Herbert Hoover had an impeccable resume. Few Americans had much cause to seek change.

The text of Hoover's inaugural address is found below. The second document is a map of the election of 1928 results.

Questions to consider:
1. What are the major points in Hoover's inaugural address?
2. How does he discuss the economy? What about the government's involvement in the economy?

     Herbert Hoover Inaugural Address 1929.rtf  
Herbert Hoover's Inaugural Address was found at
The Election of 1928 map was found at
Hoover and the Great DepressionTop
On October 29, 1929, the Stock Market crashed, bringing the post-war decade of unrivaled prosperity, largely fed by the emergence of the consumer economy, to an abrupt end. While the causes of the Depression were primarily rooted in the structure of the American economy, Hoover, following conservative economic thinking, believed that economic matters were best left to the markets to sort out and, as a result, favored a minimal governmental response, largely centered on “trickle down theory,” to the growing crisis.

The following document is a transcript Herbert Hoover assuring the American public that things are getting better.

Question to consider:
1. Was the Great Depression too large for any economic policy to counter?
2. Could Hoover had done anything to stop the Depression?

     Hoover Insists Things are Getting Better transcript.rtf  
The transcript of Hoover's speech was found at
Dissatisfaction with Hoover's ResponseTop
Herbert Hoover was a great a great product of and great believer in rugged individualism. He believed that human will and initiative could overcome most of humanity’s troubles, including the Depression. To Hoover, charity was a matter for local governments and churches. As a result, Hoover, for fear of squelching people’s ambition, refused to embrace many intrusive governmental policies. Many Americans resented what they saw as an insufficient governmental response to the economic crisis, and, as president, Hoover bore the brunt of their animosity. Outturned pockets, demonstrating that they contained no money, were called “Hoover flags” and shanty towns constructed by the homeless were called “Hoovervilles.” “Hooverizing,” a term embraced by Americans during the war to mean economizing, came to be a bitter synonym for poverty.

In 1932, Edward Angly published a small book called "Oh Yeah?" skewering the Hoover administration for overly optimistic view of the economy. An excerpt from that book follows below. A photograph of children left homeless by the economic downturn is also included.

Question to consider:
1. What is the federal government's responsibility in a time of national crisis?
2. How does Edward Angly believe Hoover is dealing with the Depression? What suggestions does he offer?

     Edward Angly.rtf  
     homeless children.JPG
The "Oh Yeah?" excerpt was found at
The photograph of homeless children was found at
The Bonus MarchTop
In June 1932, a group of 15-20,000 impoverished First World War veterans marched on Washington to demand the immediate payment of an enlistment bonus not due to them until 1945. While their main encampment was in Anacostia Flats, Virginia, the marchers maintained a daily protest on the Washington Mall. On June 15, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would grant the veterans early payment but, under a threatened veto by Hoover, the bill failed in the Senate.
On 28 July 1932, Army Chief of Staff Douglas McArthur, who believed that the marchers were inspired by communism, ordered Major George S. Patton to remove the protestors from the Mall. Patton, using military cavalry and infantry tactics, quickly drove the protestors from Washington. Despite pleas from Congress that it would seem draconian, McArthur then ordered Patton to pursue the marchers into Virginia and destroy their encampment. In the resulting conflict, scores were injured and one child was killed. Herbert Hoover later said that the army’s routing of the Bonus Marchers doomed his chances for reelection.

The first photograph below shows the protesters at Congress. The second photograph shows the encampment in flames.

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     shanty burned.jpg
The photograph of the marchers was found at
The photograph of burning shanties was found at
Election of 1932Top
Hoover’s often tepid response to the Great Depression likely cost him any chance of reelection in 1932. As it was, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the charismatic and confident former Governor of New York, appeared to be far more energetic and capable than Hoover. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address was hailed as a landmark in American oration. Roosevelt quickly set upon a course of active engagement with the Depression that changed American’s relationship with government.

The first document below is a transcript of Roosevelt's inaugural address. The second document is a map of the electoral outcome of the election of 1932.

Question to consider:
1. What is remarkable about Roosevelt's speech?
2. What qualities did Roosevelt have that endeared him to the American people in a desperate time?

     FDR first Inaugural.rtf  
     election of 1932 map.jpg
FDR's First Inauguaral address was found at
The election of 1932 map was found at
Lesson PlansTop
The following lesson plans relate to this module.
     Farm Life During the Great Depression Lesson Plan.rtf  
     Exploring the Great Depression Through Pictures and Music_Exploring the Great Depression Through Pictures and Music Lesson Plan.rtf  
     The Impact of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lesson Plan.rtf  
Power PointTop
The following Power Point address the material in this teaching module.
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