This week Clark, Eyra and I (Abby) decided to go to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site for Clark’s b-day. This site is located in West Branch, Iowa and is roughly an hour and a half from Pella. We started our morning off right with eggs on toast and steaming mugs of yummy coffee. We then packed all of our winter gear and our picnic lunch and began our journey!
We first arrived at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Now, I don’t know about you, but going into this, I didn’t know much about Hoover expect for the fact that he was the president during the Great Depression. I also knew that he caught a lot of flak during his presidency because almost all the citizens blamed him for the economic situation. Boy, was I about to get schooled!
We entered the lobby of the building and were warmly greeted by a volunteer and a uniformed guard (or as Clark put it, a Hoover Disciple). We paid our admission (which was pretty reasonable at $10 per adult and Eyra was free) and were told that a short movie about Hoover’s life would be playing in a few minutes.
When the movie was about to start the uniformed officer came and let us know so we wouldn’t miss it. The small theatre was quaint and the seats were comfortable. We were lucky that we were the only people there because Eyra would not sit still through the 20-minute movie. Over those 20 minutes I learned more about Hoover than I have in my whole life.
His life had a rather tragic beginning. He was born in West Branch, IA in August of 1874. He was the middle child and had an older brother and a younger sister. When he was 6 years old his father (Jessie Hoover, a blacksmith) died of a heart attack while sick with pneumonia. Only 3 years later, his mother also passed away, leaving him an orphan at the young age of 9. At this point he was sent on a train, with coins sewed into his pockets, all the way to Oregon to live with his Aunt and Uncle. The museum had quite a few artifacts of his childhood including an old rocking chair that his mother used as well as portraits of his whole family.
After graduating high school, Hoover went to Stanford University and studied Mining Engineering. WOO WOO, go engineers! If you couldn’t tell, I am an engineer. This is when Hoover’s life really got interesting! He met his soon to be wife, Lou while attending geology classes at Stanford (she was the only female geology major in the entire school! How badass is that!?!?). After getting his degree he began to look for work. He saw an advertisement for a mining job in Australia that was seeking an engineer at least 35 years of age, with a lifetime of experience. That reminds me of modern life, you graduate with honors from college, yet industries and companies want you to have 10 years minimum of working experience. I mean seriously? Anyway, Hoover was only 21 at the time, but he bought himself a top hat, a fancy tweed suit, and grew out a handlebar mustache and applied. Amazingly enough, he got the job and moved to Australia. Despite his young age, he made quite a name for himself in Australia, earning the nickname “Chief”.
After the job was done in Australia, he got offered a job in China, but there was one order of business that needed to be taken care of. He headed back to California and proposed to Lou! They were married right before they left for China! The museum has awesome displays of artifacts and pictures that were taken on both jobs! China soon became a conflict zone, but Lou was not deterred. Every morning he said she would sweep the bullet shells off the porch. By the time they left China, Lou had mastered the art of shooting guns and had also learned nearly 8 languages.
Next, they were off to England and coordinated the evacuation of 120,000 US citizens when WWI broke out. Once back in the United States, he decided it was important to help aid the Belgians whose country had been destroyed from German attacks. During this effort, he was able to raise millions of dollars of aid and when the US entered the war, President Wilson asked Hoover to head the U.S. Food Administration. Through the exhibit, they had flour sacks that had been used and decorated before being sent for Belgian aid. They also had examples of some “breads” that people were expected to eat that were made out of weeds, clay and even MANURE. Can you imagine eating MANURE bread?! Disgusting!
Heading up the Food Administration made Hoover a household name. He believed that conserving food would win the war! He introduced a food saving initiative called “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays”. Through these programs people began to call the act of being conservative with resources “to Hooverize!”.
Once the War was over, Hoover became secretary of commerce under President Coolidge. Due to his efforts, many industries were stream lined due to the adoption of standardized hardware and tools. His favor among the American people reached an all-time high when he led the relief efforts after the Mississippi River flood in 1927. He was so well loved, and was a shoe-in for the next presidency.
The museum had amazing displays of all the different industries that were affected by the standardization of tools and hardware. This led the cost of goods to decrease so the average family could enjoy modern technologies like radio, gas stoves, toasters, and automobiles. It also had a very interesting display on the construction of the Hoover Dam during Hoover’s presidency.
The displays then began to show the downturn of the economy through pictures and news articles of what is now known as the Great Depression. Millions of people were out of work. Hoover worked tirelessly on creating jobs from public works projects and through funding from business owners. It was through this search for creating jobs that the Hoover Dam Project (once called the Boulder Dam Project) was kicked off. Despite Hoover creating many, many jobs, he was still the scapegoat in this economic bust and he was unable to be re-elected.
Despite having political differences, FDR asked Hoover to be the chair of an international relief effort to help out the people of Belgium, Finland, and Poland. During the Truman administration, Hoover served as the coordinator of Food Supply for World Famine.
Unfortunately, in 1944 Bert’s wife Lou passed away at the age of 70. Hoover continued to be involved in politics but never ran for office again. During the last years of his life he lived at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. The museum has a beautiful re-creation of the hotel suite including a portrait of his late wife hung over his desk, a card table, and a statue of a Tommyknocker (a mythical creature known by miners). It was in the re-created room that our own little Eyra thought she’d go sit on the couch, and BOOM! she ran right into the glass barricade! It was hilarious and adorable to see her look of confusion that she couldn’t walk into that room! So props to the museum on keeping their glass extra clean!
In the last room of the exhibit, it showed Hoover doing something that he truly loved. Fishing in his home state of Iowa. During his retirement, he did this often to enjoy his time.
After the conclusion of the museum exhibit, we then walked to the final resting place of President Hoover and his wife Lou. The path was smooth and curvy and we could tell the grave-site was created with love. There are bushes arranged in such a way that both Herbert and Lou’s graves are facing an unobstructed view of the very cottage where little Bertie was born. According to the volunteer, it was always Hoovers dream to be born and buried within view of each other, “from cradle to grave”. After taking in the beauty from the top of the hill where this great president and his amazing wife were buried, we began to follow the walking path to his birthplace.
On the way to his childhood home, you can visit the Friends Meeting House, where Herbert and his family went every 1st and 4th day of the week to worship in silence. Growing up in the Quaker religion is what made Hoover into a great humanitarian, always thinking about how he could help others.
Herbert Hoovers birthplace is a small 2 room cottage. What we would probably consider the living room had the beds that I imagine Theodore and Herbert slept on as well as a sewing machine. The other room, which appeared to be the “master bedroom” had a bed for Jessie and Hulda and a small baby bed for Herbert’s little sister Mary. In typical fashion at the time, the kitchen was a separate room out back. You could see an old clothes line and a small garden. There was also an outhouse in the backyard, that of course, Clark tried to open! He was excited to use an outhouse from the 1800’s! Unfortunately, it was closed and Clark didn’t get the joy of using the outhouse.
Next we were able to look at the re-creation of the Jessie Hoovers blacksmith shop where he worked until his death. The surrounding homes were beautiful and the area is perfect for taking a stroll through time. To a time where life was simpler! Being able to explore this time in history made me very grateful for the time that I get to spend with my own family.
On our walk back to the car we stopped to look at the statue of Isis (the Egyptian goddess of life, fertility and motherhood) which was given to Hoover by the citizens of Belgium for his efforts to relieve the famine. Quite an interesting statue and in some ways confusing and bizarre. Overall, we had a wonderful time exploring this site and learning so much more about a president who is known for such a small and unfortunate era in history. I learned that he did so, so much to help his fellow Americans, and also to help people he didn’t even know! What an inspiration! I hope we are able to instill in Eyra, this desire to help those in need, whether they be our neighbor, or children on the other side of the world!!
Stay tuned next week while we explore Iowa’s state capital!
To be continued…