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Presidential Library of President Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa
West Branch, Iowa
The small town of West Branch, Iowa has attractions of which former President Herbert Hoover's Presidential Library, his early childhood home and his place of burial are several of the more significant ones.
Herbert Hoover was born in this small cottage pictured above on August 10, 1874 in the town of West Branch, Iowa. The tiny abode is only 14 by 20 feet and was built by Herbert's father Jesse and his grandfather Eli in 1871.
Herbert was one of three children born to Hulda Minthorn Hoover and Jesse Hoover. He was the middle child. Theodore was his older brother and Mary was his younger sister. Prior to marriage his mother was a teacher. She had been born in Canada but had moved to West Branch with her parents when they relocated there.
West Branch, Iowa was a community where the majority of people earned their livelihoods in some way related to farming. Herbert's dad was a blacksmith who owned his own successful business. After selling his blacksmith shop Jesse Hoover opened a farm machinery business. You can view one of the ads for his business from a snapshot I took in the Hoover Presidential Museum which is located near the home of Herbert's birth.
By 1879 due to the success of his business Jesse had sold this small cottage and had moved into a larger house.
Hoover's Birthplace Now a National Historic Site
The cottage as well as a few other buildings are now part of a national historic site where one can view the humble beginnings of this man who was to become the 31st President of the United States.
His birthplace is filled with appropriate furnishings as would have been found during the late 19th century in the midwest. Much of the original furniture was acquired for the house.
The trundle bed in the one bedroom house was pulled out at night and the children slept on that lower level with their parents sleeping on the top portion of the bed.
The living room also doubled as the kitchen during cold weather where the stove would be utilized for both cooking and heating of the small cottage. When the weather warmed up the stove would be moved to the back porch as was commonly done back then. Not only would the stove not heat up the house during the warmer months but also it posed less risk of a fire.
Early School Days
The small school house in which Herbert and his fellow classmates would have attended stands as a monument to how classes were taught during that time. One teacher in one room teaching a multiple of class levels was standard.
Notice the wooden desks and the slate chalk boards on each desk which would have been used by the students in learning their lessons of math, penmanship and other subjects.
This building started its life being utilized as the Friends meetinghouse in 1853 when it was built by the Quakers at a cost of $800. Once they succeeded in building another place of worship it reverted to being solely a school which was the initial intent.
The Friend's Church
The Friend's Church that the Hoover's attended is open for all to see. Men sat on one side of the room and the women sat across the aisle on the other side. Herbert's mother was a recorded minister in the Society of Friends or Quakers as they were also known.
Silent meditation was the rule when attending these church functions. They did not have preachers or ministers as we commonly have in most churches today. If anyone was inspired to get up in front of the room full of congregants and relate a special spiritual message or something that they thought the rest of the gathered people might like to hear they did so. Hulda Hoover was one who often spoke before the assembled group of Friends.
Because of this Quaker background which stressed rugged independence but also a great spirit of lending a hand to people in need, Herbert Hoover slowly developed into the man he would become.
Ladder of Success Despite Becoming an Orphan
Unfortunately both of his parents died and by the age of 9 he and his siblings became orphaned.
Herbert's teacher wanted to adopt him but she was single and his relatives thought that he would be better off with them. Those were the days when single people were not often considered to be the best choice for parenting a child.
After living with one of his uncles who lived on a farm near West Branch at age 11 Herbert moved to Newburg, Oregon to live with another one of his uncles, Dr. H. John Minthorn.
At age 17 he was one of the first class students to study engineering at Stanford University. Those first students did not have to pay any tuition! Hoover ended up receiving a degree in geology as did his future wife whom he met at the same university.
Herbert Hoover started his career as a mining engineer and not only applied himself wholeheartedly to that effort but actually came up with ideas that made sense saving company money, authoring books and ultimately making a lot of money for himself and that of his family.
He had made his first million dollars as an engineer prior to becoming 40 years of age. That was a lot of money in those days!
Herbert Hoover married Lou Henry in 1899 and they had two sons. She accompanied him on many of his world travels. While Mrs. Hoover never worked using her teaching and geology degrees she was highly educated and made a good life partner for Herbert.
Some of the places Herbert Hoover worked included the states of California and Colorado. He also worked in Australia, China and England. He was definitely a globe trotter encircling the planet many times during the course of his engineering work.
- During World War 1 Hoover was working in London. He was contacted by the U.S. Consul General to help enable many of the stranded Americans to be able to get back home.
- He also started helping in many relief efforts to help feed hungry people in many countries affected by the war including Belgium, France and Germany.
- President Woodrow Wilson appointed him to be the Director General of Post War Relief and Rehabilitation in 1919.
- Hoover became Secretary of Commerce under President Warren G. Harding in 1921 and continued to serve in that capacity under President Calvin Coolidge.
- When President Coolidge decided not to run for reelection in 1927 Herbert Hoover was encouraged by the Republican Party to run on that ballot. Although at one time he considered himself to be a Democrat he decided to accept and won an overwhelming victory over Alfred E. Smith.
- Eight months after Hoover was elected the Wall Street Stock Market crash of 1929 occurred which led to the Great Depression.
Herbert Hoover (Speaking in his own words encouraging people to vote)
The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl
- While Hoover entered the Presidency as a highly revered man he exited the office with many people thinking that perhaps he was the worst President in history. Many historians are now taking another look at what he had accomplished and the overwhelming circumstances which were taking place at that time causing much of the distress that echoed all across our land and beyond the seas.
- While he may not have been the best communicator with regard to dealing with other politicians and may have seemed lacking in charisma, Hoover actually set into place much of what would be credited to the New Deal during the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency. Many massive Federal Government projects were set into motion to help reverse the economic collapse experienced at the time.
- Had not the collapse of banking and the stock market been bad enough the dust bowl of the 1930s cemented Herbert Hoover's fate. Unemployment was at a whopping 24.9% and soup lines and tent cities had mushroomed all across America. It took years to recover from the damage inflicted by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and Hoover got the blame for most of the lingering effects at that time.
After losing the election to FDR in 1932 he retired to his home in California and concentrated his efforts and time to the Hoover Institution on the Stanford University campus.
Hoover's Food Relief Efforts
- Because of his great success in handling food aid relief efforts during World War 1 his help was once again solicited during World War 2 by President Harry Truman.
- Hoover initiated efforts here at home for everyone to pitch in and stop eating meat products on Mondays and forego eating wheat products on Wednesdays. His idea was that "food will win the war."
- Food not eaten at home could be shipped to help feed our soldiers and also war victims in countries affected by World War 2.
- Victory Gardens became a commonplace thing not only in people's own yards but also in public parks.
- Food coupons were issued for foodstuffs that were limited in supply for use in America.
- Classes were taught all across the country on how to cook more economically.
- Once again due to his leadership role 20 million people were aided who might otherwise have starved in Europe during and after the war.
- In Belgium alone Herbert Hoover was considered to be a hero and near his birthplace is a statue honoring him for his successful efforts on their behalf during this troubled time in history.
- Truman and Hoover developed a long lasting friendship that remained in effect the rest of their lives even though they were in opposing political parties. In fact Harry Truman was a guest at the dedication of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in 1962.
- Herbert Hoover will always be considered a great humanitarian. He never kept one dime of money earned from being a public servant. Instead he donated that money from his salary to volunteer organizations.
Boy's Clubs of America
One of his favorite charities was the Boy's Clubs of America. He helped raise millions of dollars and was Chairman of the Board for that organization from 1836 to 1964. He helped increase membership by over 200%.
Hoover was quoted as saying that his association with the Boy's Clubs had been "nearest to my heart in all my public life."
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
The Presidential Museum of the 31st President of the United States, that of Herbert Hoover, is as unpretentious as one might expect of a person who embraced his Quaker background. It was built entirely with private funds.
Furniture, photos, manuscripts and mementos from the Hoover presidency can all be viewed in the museum. It was dedicated in 1962 and is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.
My mother, niece and I spent quite a few hours going through the museum reading and looking at many of the exhibits. Of course we could not begin to absorb all that was available in the few hours we had allowed ourselves to be there. Various rooms contain different displays and there is also a 180-seat auditorium that is located at one end of the building.
One of the special exhibits being shown when we happened to be there was one regarding the mothers of the Presidents. That was most informative along with another one about the First Ladies. Pictures, clothing worn by them, video-tapes and so forth showed the differing styles and interests of each lady. They each had their own important stories and this absorbed some of our time while we were wandering through the museum.
Room is allotted for traveling exhibits regarding other people and topics that would keep frequent visitors entertained and constantly learning about new things.
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library - Timothy Walch talks about one of the special displays...
Just inside the portico of the Presidential Museum was a tiny house with a well and other tiny structures. It housed a mother cat and her kittens and there was food and water available. It drew much attention as one might imagine. We saw many smiles and I was not the only one snapping a photo of it.
From the place of his birth to his Presidential Museum and Library to his final resting spot Herbert Hoover and the town of West Branch, Iowa will be forever linked.
He was a fascinating person of history and we learned much about this tireless humanitarian.
All of these buildings are located in close proximity and no matter which side of the political spectrum with which one might be aligned this historical place is well worth a visit.
Herbert Hoover - A Documentary (Short Class Room Version)
Town of West Branch, Iowa
See photos below of the town of West Branch, Iowa. Many buildings in the town are on the National Historical list as being typical of a certain era.
Would you visit Hoover's Presidential Library & Museum if you were in the area?
Well Narrated Video of Hoover's Legacy
© 2009 Peggy Woods