IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
HERBERT HOOVER - AN IOWA BOY WHO BECAME PRESIDENT
We have read how men from Iowa and form the other states went to Europe in 1917 and 1918 to fight in the World War. But a war requires more than men and guns. A soldier cannot fight well if he does not have plenty of good food. The people at home, too, must have enough to eat or the children will not grow up to be strong men and women.
In the World War food was very important, indeed. There were millions of men in the armies to be fed and, of course, there were fewer people at home to raise crops and take care of the cattle and other animals used for food. So Iowa had a very important part in winning the war by furnishing food as well as by sending soldiers to fight.
It happened that a man from Iowa had a great deal to do with the food supply in Europe and America. This was Herbert Clark Hoover, who was born at the little town of West Branch, Iowa, on August 10, 1874. Perhaps you may be interested to know a little about his life before the war. His father was the village blacksmith at West Branch and the family lived in a little two-room house near the father's shop. Both the father and mother belonged to the Society of Friends or Quakers and the mother often talked at the meetings.
During the ten years Herbert Hoover lived in Iowa, he spent his time much as the other boys in the community did. Of course he went to school. He also went with his family to the quiet Quaker meetings. Then he did chores around home or on his uncle's farm.
But Herbert had time for sports, too. He went fishing with the other boys at his age, and in the winter he caught rabbits in "figure four" traps. When there was snow on the ground, the children coasted down a long hill on homemade sleds. In the summer the boys went swimming in a near-by creek. Herbert also like to walk along the streams and railroad tracks where he picked up bright colored stones and agates.
When Herbert was six years old his father died and four years later the mother also died, leaving Herbert, and older brother, and a younger sister to be cared for by relatives. About a year later Herbert was sent to an uncle who lived in Oregon. As the boy grew older he decided that he would like to be a mining engineer. He had very little money but he worked his way through Leland Stanford Jr. University in California. After he graduated, he worked for a time as a laborer in a mine; but soon became an assistant in the office of a noted mining engineer.
In 1897, when Hoover was twenty-three years old, he was asked to go to Australia to take charge of some large mines. The owners offered the young engineer $7500 a year. From Australia he went to China, where, in 1900, he saw war for the first time. A group of Chinese, called Boxers, tried to kill or drive out all the white people in China. Mr. and Mrs. Hoover were among the white people surrounded by the Boxers in the Chinese city of Pekin, but European and American soldiers came to their recue.
For a number of years after this Mr. Hoover travelled about the world taking charge of mines and giving advice as to how they could be made more profitable. He was paid well for this, and soon he was part owner of some of these mines.
In the summer of 1914, Mr. Hoover was in London on business. There were hundreds of American tourists in Europe that summer; and when the World War began in August, many of them could not get money nor could they find ships to bring them to America. Mr. Hoover was able to help many of these Americans.
Then came the news that thousands of women and children in Belgium and northern France were without food. Between them and their friends was the German army. There were many people who were willing to give food, clothing, and money to help these women and children, if they could get the food to them. The leaders asked Mr. Hoover to take charge of the work. He agreed to do this, gave up his interest in the mines, and for the next three years he went about Europe and America collecting and distributing food. During this time he received no pay and he paid his own expenses.
When the United States entered the war in the spring of 1917, President Woodrow Wilson sent for Mr. Hoover and asked him to take charge of the food supply in the United States. His title was to be Food Administrator. It was his duty to urge people to raise as much food as possible and also to save wheat flour, sugar, and meat, because these foods could easily be shipped to the army in Europe. Iowa farmers, of course, furnished a great deal of food for our own soldiers and for the people of Europe. The women had a hard time trying to make good bread out of corn, rice, potato, or rye flour instead of the fine wheat flour. It was hard to cook without plenty of sugar, too, and meals without meat did not quite satisfy the family.
The fighting ended in November, 1918, but Mr. Hoover's war work was not quite finished. Many of the people of Europe were in need, and again Mr. Hoover took charge of collecting and furnishing food to the people of Europe, this time to German and Austrian children as well as to those of France and Belgium.
In March, 1921, Mr. Hoover became Secretary of Commerce at Washington. Here his knowledge of other countries both in Europe and Asia proved useful in securing markets for American goods. He remained in this office nearly eight years.
In 1927, during the spring and summer, there was a great flood in the Mississippi Valley. Rains all over the central part of the United States caused the Mississippi River to overflow its banks for many miles. Thousands of people were driven from their homes and were living in camps. They needed food, shelter, clothing, and medicines. President Coolidge asked Secretary Hoover to help take care of these people.
In June, 1928, the Republican Party chose Herbert Hoover as its candidate for President of the United States. Later in the summer Mr. Hoover visited the little town of West Branch where he had lived as a small boy. Here he spoke to many thousands of people. On his way from West Branch to Cedar Rapids, Mr. Hoover stopped at Iowa City to visit the Old Stone Capitol.
In November, 1928, Herbert Hoover was elected President of the United States. He is not only the first man born in Iowa, but also the first man born west of the Mississippi River, to hold that position.
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