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The presidency of Herbert Hoover

When Herbert Hoover took office in 1929, he had no idea that the Great Depression was imminent. 


  • Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of the United States. He served one term, from 1929 to 1933.
  • Before becoming president, Hoover directed relief efforts to supply war-torn Europe and Russia during and after the First World War.
  • After the 1929 stock market crash, the Hoover administration attempted to mitigate the negative effects of the Great Depression but was unable to significantly improve the economy.

The early life of Herbert Hoover

Herbert Clark Hoover was born in 1874 in Iowa, and was the first US president to have been born west of the Mississippi River. He worked as a mining engineer and an independent mining consultant, traveling the world and building a sizable personal fortune.1 When World War I broke out, Hoover became active in humanitarian work, and chaired the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which provided relief to that country as it faced a food crisis brought on by the German invasion in 1914.2 He also served as the director of the American Relief Administration, which was formed in 1919 and supplied relief to war-torn Europe and Russia.3
Herbert Hoover. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
During the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover head of the US Food Administration, which sought to reduce consumption and avoid wartime food rationing. Hoover went on to serve as Secretary of Commerce in the administration of Warren G. Harding.

The presidency of Herbert Hoover

Hoover won the Republican nomination in the 1928 presidential election after Republican President Calvin Coolidge announced that he would not be running for reelection. Hoover campaigned on Coolidge’s legacy of economic prosperity, pledging to support business, improve the quality of life of the nation’s farmers, and conduct a relatively isolationist foreign policy. Hoover was ambivalent about Prohibition, referring to it as a “great social and economic experiment,” but failing to back it wholeheartedly.4 Hoover won the election in a landslide against his Democratic opponent.
Once in office, Hoover sought to reform the nation’s regulatory system. He was not an advocate of a laissez-faire economy, but instead encouraged the voluntary cooperation of the federal government and big business. At Hoover’s direction, the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department prosecuted gangsters, including Al Capone, for tax evasion. Hoover considered himself a progressive, and this was reflected in some of his administration’s policies, including the reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the organization of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the closing of tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans, the expansion of national park lands, and the strengthening of protections for labor.
Hoover’s most notable foreign policy achievements were in Latin America. His administration laid the groundwork for what became the Good Neighbor Policy under Hoover's successor Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Good Neighbor policy explicitly disavowed military interventionism in hemispheric relations. Hoover himself embarked upon a goodwill tour in Latin America, traveling to ten countries and delivering pledges to reduce US political and military interference in the domestic affairs of Latin American countries. Hoover also successfully mediated a dispute between Chile and Peru over land.

Hoover and the Great Depression

In 1929, the stock market crash catalyzed the onset of the Great Depression.5 Though Hoover has gained a reputation for dithering in the face of economic peril, his administration actually pursued measures that helped lay the basis for Roosevelt’s New Deal. Hoover launched a massive public works program, part of which included funding for construction of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. His administration implemented stronger protections for labor and substantially increased federal subsidies for agriculture.6 Hoover also played a key role in passing the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, which limited the activities of commercial banks in an attempt to stabilize the banking sector.
Photograph of the Hoover Dam under construction. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
However, many of these policies were not immediately effective, and some of the administration’s actions actually worsened the effects of the depression. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, for instance, which Hoover signed reluctantly, raised tariffs on thousands of imported goods and initiated a trade war between the United States and Europe, thereby exacerbating the global economic downturn.7
Although Hoover ran for reelection in 1932, his inability to mitigate the negative economic consequences of the Great Depression had made him widely unpopular. He lost the election to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.

What do you think?

Did Hoover’s early career effectively prepare him for the presidency? Why or why not?
What were Hoover’s greatest accomplishments as president? What were his most consequential shortcomings?
How would you characterize the Hoover administration’s response to the Great Depression?

Want to join the conversation?

  • old spice man green style avatar for user Chris Elsberry
    How would Hoover's presidency been different had he been able to help mitigate the effects of the Great Depression?
    (17 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    "Though Hoover has gained a reputation for dithering in the face of economic peril, his administration actually pursued measures that helped lay the basis for Roosevelt’s New Deal."

    My understanding of this period of history relays otherwise. That in fact Hoover and the Federal Reserve's counterproductive-to-growth economic policies were horrible in their consequence. Had laissez-faire policy been maintained, and the Federal Reserve never been formed, there might have never been a call for, and certainly not any need for the "New Deal." Periods of economic contraction and expansion occurred throughout all of U.S. history, however only THIS recession happened post-Fed, and the Federal reserve had no idea what to do. It is a shame, because it would seem as if now, our reading of history skews the facts into portraying the New Deal as a redeeming force, or other force for good, when in fact it was born out of faulty policy, and it's programs (E.g. Social Security) continue to harm people all across America.
    (5 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Harriet Buchanan
      I am also a Social Security recipient, and I paid into the system for about 45 years. The SS taxes I paid supported the elderly of past generations who could live their old age without fear of starving. Now I'm 75 years old, and Social Security is my major source of monthly income. My home isn't fancy, but I know I can eat decent food and have a roof over my head. I can think of some painless fixes that could be made by Congress to ensure that SS is there for future generations, but Congress seems to have other ideas. That's a shame.
      (20 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Samantha Moone #Writer's Alliance
    So, people are blaming Hoover for the Great Depression. It sounds like they were also blaming Coolidge. Were they just pointing fingers at anyone that could have done anything that spurred on the great depression?
    (8 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user KingW2019
      I agree. I believe that Hoover and Coolidge are unfairly blamed for the Great Depression. They were actually very well liked up until that point for spurring the economic growth that came to be so synonymous with the Roaring '20s. They were largely in support of free-market principles and pro-business, allowing for quality of life to rise greatly. Really, I think that they get no credit for what they did well and get blamed for the stock market crash, something that is pretty much random.
      (14 votes)
  • purple pi purple style avatar for user josh johnson
    If tariffs caused a trade war, then it caused further damage to the economy, is that is why jobs were lost and the depression grew deeper? Or is that the ball (depression) was sliding down the hillside and just kept growing until millions were out of work?

    Is it true then that by placing tariffs we bought less of their goods, put their workers out of a job and the same happened here? Now if we give them our jobs, we don't make the products, how does that help us?
    (4 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Harriet Buchanan
      The world economy thrives on trade in both directions. If we buy foreign products, that enables their people to buy our products, and prices are kept down both directions. Once tariff's are put in place, we can only buy our own products, which are likely overpriced, and only if we have jobs in order to purchase anything.

      During the Great Depression, so many people were out of work that they couldn't pay for what was produced, and then those workers were out of a job and they couldn't buy anything either. There was a run on the banks who didn't have enough cash on hand to meet depositor withdrawals and the banks collapsed, and more folks couldn't buy anything. Tariffs are not the answer to creating jobs.
      (10 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user jb268536
    How did the world war start?
    (2 votes)
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  • mr pink orange style avatar for user Bookworm14 🕋
    Was it hoover who created the glass steagall act or fdr?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      We make a mistake when we credit (or discredit) any single person or president with "creating" anything as complex as a legislative act or regulatory regime. These things take time and LOTS of people to create. I note that the Glass Steagall Act was enacted in June of 1933. Roosevelt had only been in office for 3 months then (inauguration was in March in 1933). So, "he" didn't do it. What CAN be said is that he was president when it went into effect. (Crediting Roosevelt with this act is akin to crediting Truman with Taft-Hartley, which Truman vetoed, but which was enacted over his veto by large anti-union majorities in Congress in 1947.)
      (6 votes)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user Mona J Law
    Why did he build the Hoover Dam in the first place? what was it's goal? And how could he not see that millions lost their homes and were blaming it on him?
    (1 vote)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Abby
    Who was the President?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user danielledixon4232
    why did banks and places like that think that they could just spend all the money with no backup plans?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The market was spiraling upwards, creating "value", on the basis of which, banks made loans. That's how banks make money, by loaning out what is deposited in them. There was no securities and exchange commission, no deposit insurance corporation, and little regulation (after all, the Republican government believed in letting things operate without government interference). Why did it happen? Because people in positions to control believed that the good times would never end. Alas, the good times ALWAYS end.
      (5 votes)
  • piceratops seed style avatar for user vsk29559
    Is the Hoover Dam still operational?
    (2 votes)
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