The Herbert Hoover Homestead and Library

On our cross country drive from California to Pennsylvania, we made a special point to plan our route through Iowa. While most would wonder why, since Iowa is considered one of the most boring American states, it held a special significance. Mrs Bear had traveled to 49 of our 50 states, and needed only Iowa to complete her national journeys. And she is a girl scout … It is not enough to simply drive through the state … One must stop and sample the scenery or culture of its offerings. The scenery in Iowa is really not much to boast about, so culture it was.

One of our traveling interests has been to visit Presidential homes and libraries. Iowa is the site of the Herbert Hoover library. President Hoover was born into a Quaker family with limited means. The family cottage below had three rooms, with the three children sharing a bedroom. His father was a blacksmith, and referred to Herbert as his ”stick in the mud.” This came about because young Herbert evidently made it a regularity to become stuck in the muddy quagmire of a street after a heavy rain.

Herbert’s parents died during his adolescence, leading to a relocation to family in Oregon. But after his Presidency, Herbert chose his boyhood home as the site of his museum and library.

Herbert attended Stanford University and majored in geology. After graduation, he specialized as a locator of gold deposits and renovator of older gold mines. He worked in Australia, China, and finally Europe. When WWI concluded, President Wilson placed Hoover in charge of aiding nearly 100,000 Americans who had become trapped in Belgium during the war. Hoover was very successful and well regarded for his efforts. This led to an appointment as Secretary of Commerce during the Harding / Coolidge administrations, and a nomination to run as the Republican candidate for President. He won in a landslide.

President Hoover did not cause the Great Depression of 1929. The circumstances seemed to me to be similar to our more recent recessions: Corporate greed, overextensions of buying without adequate capitol or credit, and poor regulation. I guess we really never learn. But the Depression hit on Hoover’s watch … Being an ardent conservative, President Hoover was reluctant to use government funds to increase spending and employment. As a result, President Hoover was ineffective at managing the crisis, and easily defeated by Franklin Roosevelt four years later.

Hoover retreated for a few years, but given his success providing aid programs at the end of WWI, President Truman put him in charge of extensive European aid programs in the aftermath of WWII. Once again, Former President Hoover was exceedingly successful and regained much of his personal esteem.

So there was much more than expected in the story of Herbert Hoover, and made our stop well worth our time. And I guess the same can be said for Iowa … A state with more to offer than flat roads and corn fields. But that doesn’t mean that we will go out of our way to visit Iowa on the next cross-country drive when the flatlands of Oklahoma, Texas, or Saskatchewan beckon.

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