Sunday, May 1, 2011


Hoover museum an eye-opener

A re-creation of the living room in Hoover’s suite at the Waldorf Towers at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library in West Branch, Iowa, was an eye-opening delight. Only one other presidential museum, that of Gerald Ford, has done as much to show me aspects of a president I had not known before. Hoover had to have been one of the most talented men to become president, and one with one of the poorest reputations. It is a clear example of how presidents can be blamed for events over which they have little control or disasters that were actually set up by previous administrations.

What is often seen as a failed presidency was only 5 percent of a truly remarkable life; and as you walk past the displays detailing his life, it feels like you are walking through a Horatio Alger novel. This is the remarkable story an orphan’s rise to great heights through a combination of talent, hard work, historical context and a bit of blarney at the right time.

Hoover’s father died when he was 7; his mother when he was 10. The three Hoover children were split up, and he was sent to a stern uncle in Oregon. He later got into Stanford University and studied engineering. When he saw a job listing for a job calling for a much older man, he grew a mustache, bought a fancy suit and passed himself as older. He was sent to Australia, where he discovered he had a talent for finding gold and working with miners. The company sent him to China, where his skills continued to bring him attention and the opportunity to travel widely around the world. His wife, Lou Henry, and he lived in China long enough to speak the language, and they continued to speak it when they didn’t want others to understand what they were saying.

A recreation of Hoover’s White House Office

Hoover became very rich and felt, probably because of his Quaker upbringing, that there was more to life than making money. He wanted to be involved in humanitarian activities. Because of the climate of World War I, Belgian children were starving to death. With the cooperation of the Germans and Allies, he made arrangements to get the facilities to bring in food. After the war, he was placed in charge of the program to prevent massive starvation in Europe, and he showed great organizational skills in getting the job done. In 1928, he won the presidency by a landslide. Nine months later in November, the ax fell, and the market collapsed. He couldn’t dent the problem and was blamed for it continuing.

Franklin Roosevelt beat him in 1932 and he went into forced retirement in disgrace. After World War II, Harry Truman asked him to again help with the recovery in Europe. He was called the Great Humanitarian. In the museum, old people who were survivors of famines after both wars give testimonials on one monitor to what hunger does to people and how important Hoover’s work was.

Herbert Hoover as fisherman, one of his favorite pastimes.

He was the first president to use radio, and one section plays some of his speeches, and another section uses three monitors to give his inauguration. One room of the exhibit is a replica of his office in the New York Waldorf Towers, where he lived for 25 years. In the room is his color TV set playing interviews he had with various newsmen.

Life-sized figures throughout show him as various ages, as a 10 year old, a young engineer, a man of wealth and as president.

Hoover’s father’s blacksmith shop has been restored.

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