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Thirty-first president of the United States, Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), was in kinship care as a child. 

Herbert Clark Hoover was born into a Quaker family in West Branch, Iowa. His father, Jesse Hoover, died when Herbert was six, and his mother, Hulda Minthorn Hoover, when Herbert was nine. The boy was taken to live with a paternal uncle, Allen Hoover, who had a farm close by, while Herbert’s sister and brother were separated and taken to other relatives.  

Then, in 1884, ten-year-old Herbert was sent by train to live with his maternal uncle Henry, a country doctor, and aunt Laura Minthorn, who had recently lost a son. The Minthorns lived at Newberg, Oregon, at the time a Quaker settlement and now home to George Fox University. According to some, the Minthorns “treated him coldly and loaded him down with chores” (Lemann). Hoover describes his uncle as a “natural teacher” (12) if somewhat emotionally distant. 

Herbert was fourteen when he left school and began work as a clerk for his uncle’s real estate business while attending night school. Herbert Hoover studied geology and mechanical engineering at Stanford University, beginning there when Stanford first opened in 1891. He was well mentored at Harvard by geologist John Casper Branner. He also met Lou Henry (1874-1944)—the first woman to graduate with a degree in geology from Stanford—whom he married in 1899. 

Hoover began his career working in California mines but within two years of graduating, he arrived in Coolgardie, Western Australia in May 1897 as an employee of Bewick, Moreing & Co, a British mining company based on London.

Everybody in Coolgardie lived in a tinted atmosphere of already estimated fortune—or one about to be estimated—and therefore drank champagne as a beverage. The mines made gorgeous surface showings, but development in depth quickly dissolved many astronomic hopes. A nearby district—Kalgoorlie—however, justified its promise in full. Coolgardie, the original discovery, faded out and Kalgoorlie took the centre of the mining stage (Hoover, 30). 

Bewick, Moreing were responsible for twenty mines in Western Australia, producing thirty-seven percent of the gold and employing around twenty percent of gold mining workers in the state. Twenty-three-year-old Herbert Hoover was an “inspecting engineer” (Hartley, 2), reporting on the company’s properties and prospects and often employing friends he had made at Stanford. 

By the time Hoover left Western Australia in December 1898, he was one of the ablest and best-known mining engineers in the colony. Blunt and laconic, he had a phenomenal memory, prodigious capacity for work, and high ambition. An ardent exponent of American mining methods, he helped to establish single-hand drilling, disciplined management, and high standards of efficiency in the aftermath of a boom (Nash). 

From Australia, Hoover went to work for Bewick, Moreing in China where he was Chief Engineer on a coal-mining operation. He became a partner in the company at the end of 1901 “owning 30 per cent of the firm” (Pursell, 111), and responsible for the mines operated by the company, “most of which were then in Western Australia” (Hartley, 5).  

Returning to Western Australia on several visits between 1902 and 1907, Hoover began recruiting managers from the United States and, says Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey, was “known to more people in Kalgoorlie than Chicago.” By the time Hoover retired from Berwick, Moreing in 1908, the company was dominant in Western Australia, but its reputation was marred by controversy around the company’s treatment of workers. 

Herbert Hoover then went into business on his own, setting up offices “first in New York, San Francisco, and London and later in Petrograd and Paris” (Jeffries, 278). He financed numerous mining projects including in Australia where he established Zinc Corporation (which later became Consolidated Zinc and was in existence until 1962). He also wrote Principles of Mining which became a classic mining textbook. 

By middle age, Hoover was what Nicholas Lemann calls a “celebrated international hero…a public-service superman, a mega-bureaucrat.”  

Herbert Hoover was elected as the thirty-first President of the United States in 1928; “it was the first time he had run for political office” (Lehmann). He had considerable credibility by then as the head of an international program to provide food to Belgium after it was captured by Germany during World War I. The skills that had been useful to Hoover in supervising international mining projects were also useful in supervising an emergency relief project.  

Living in London at the time: 

He persuaded George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, and other leading authors to publish statements in support of his efforts…At a time when the world adored people who had spectacular organization skills, here was somebody using them…for purely humanitarian purposes. Hoover was a logistical saint (Lemann). 

In 1917, Herbert Hoover returned to the United States and was made director of a government agency by President Woodrow Wilson. At the helm of the United States Food Administration, Hoover was responsible for managing the nation’s food during World War I. Again, he managed this with considerable success and to great public acclaim. 

Hoover only served for one term as president. His presidency was impacted significantly by the stock-market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression. 

Hoover was doomed to be remembered as the man who was too rigidly conservative to react adeptly to the Depression, as the hapless foil to the great Franklin Roosevelt, and as the politician who managed to turn a Republican country into a Democratic one (Lehmann).  

Yet, it was Hoover who approved large scale national infrastructure projects and he approved ideas which later became fundamental to Roosevelt’s tenure, for example, loans for agricultural developments. However, his plan to provide indirect relief instead of direct relief to the millions of unemployed workers proved to be inadequate and his reputation dived. 

In 1947, Herbert Hoover was appointed by President Truman to head a commission for organising Executive Departments of the government. President Eisenhower appointed him to do similar work in 1953. Hoover was also a prolific writer, writing three volumes of an autobiography as well eight volumes in his Addresses Upon the American Road series. 

There are numerous memorials to Herbert Hoover across the United States, including Hoover House, the official residence on campus for the president of Stanford University. 

In addition:  

During his lifetime Mr Hoover probably received more honors than anyone who ever lived. There were at least forty gold medals including the Public Welfare Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, awarded in 1920…He received more than eighty honorary degrees from colleges and universities in various parts of the world. His decorations, honorary memberships, and other significant recognitions and distinctions are numbered in the thousands (Jeffries, 269).  


Blainey, Geoffrey. “Herbert Hoovers Forgotten Years.” Business Archives and History, vol. 3, no. 1 (1963): 53-70. 

Hartley, Richard. “Bewick Moreing in Western Australian Gold Mining 1897-1904: Management Policies & Goldfield Responses.” Labour History, no. 65, (1993): 1-18.  

Hoover, Herbert. The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover. Years of Adventure 1874-1920. New York: The Macmillan Company, (1951). 

“Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.” National Archives.  

“Herbert Hoover. The 31st President of the United States.” The White House.  

Jeffries, Zay. “Herbert Clark Hoover 1874-1964. A Biographical Memoir.” National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC (1967): 265-291.  

Lemann, Nicholas. “Hating on Herbert Hoover.” The New Yorker, 16 October 2017. 

Nash, George. “Hoover, Herbert Clark (1874-1964).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1983.  

Pursell, Carroll. ‘Herbert Hoover and the Transnational Lives of Engineers. In Transnational Lives. Biographies of Global Modernity, 1700-present, edited by D. Deacon, P. Russell and A. Woolacott. London: Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series, 2010. 

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