In a recent poll of American historians, Herbert Hoover was ranked as the seventh-worst president. However, in early life, he was extremely successful. He was born in 1874. By the age of 40 he had accumulated a fortune of $4m (nearly $100m in today’s money) through setting up his own mining consultancy. During World War I he threw himself into humanitarian work, organising food relief for occupied Belgium and helping the post-war recovery.
He was so popular that members of both parties encouraged him to run for president. He failed to become the Republican candidate, but in 1920 was appointed secretary of commerce by then-president Warren Harding. He used the post to try to improve industrial safety and labour relations.
In November 1928, he became president in a landslide victory over Democrat Al Smith. Unluckily for Hoover, he came to office as a credit-fuelled boom was ending. The September 1929 stockmarket crash heralded the unravelling of the financial system. But his decision to sign the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Act didn’t help, leading to a global trade war. And his efforts to stop firms from cutting wages or prices saw them slash production instead.
His insistence on a balanced budget further hit demand, turning recession into brutal depression. While his wartime humanitarian efforts saw the Finns add the word “Hoover” to their language, the slums that sprung up around major American cities became known as “Hoovervilles”.
Hoover lost the 1932 presidential election to Franklin Roosevelt, and left the White House in March 1933 with unemployment at 25.6% and large numbers of American banks on the brink of collapse.
Also on this day
On this day in 1928, Jacob Schick was issued a patent for the electric razor after he invented one based on the reloading mechanism of a repeating rifle. Read more here.