Hoover Museum tour sheds new light on the only Iowan to be president


He didn’t live here long, but Herbert Hoover said he bore the mark of Iowa—literally in his case—of being barefoot in his father’s blacksmith shop.

“The most formative years of my childhood were spent here. My roots are in this soil,” said Hoover, who was the 31st president of the United States, when he accepted his honorary degree from the University of Iowa in 1954.

Soon after, the former president chose to build his presidential library and museum in West Branch, Iowa, the town where he was born. Hoover bought and renovated the cottage he was born in and recreated his childhood neighborhood, including the Quaker church he attended. .

Birthplace of Herbert Hoover / Start Line Staff Photos

Hoover and his wife, Lou, are buried on a nearby hill overlooking the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site just off Interstate 80 east of Iowa City.

And today, anyone can wander around the restored two-room cottage, as well as the church, a recreation of the one-room schoolhouse, and the blacksmith’s shop where Hoover’s father worked.

Hoover was elected in 1928 and served only one term because the Great Depression shook the nation’s faith in him. To this day, most people associate him with the Great Depression and he doesn’t do anything about it. But is that a good way to remember him? Not really.

The museum

I arrived at the historic site just after noon on a Wednesday. As a museum lover, I went there first. I had purchased my $10 ticket online the day before and was eager to see what was in store.

Inside, the museum was quite simple and straightforward, a reflection of Hoover, who I learned enjoyed spending his time out of the political spotlight and in nature.

A circular entrance leads to a space for a special exhibit, and straight to the main event – a guided tour of Hoover’s life. The focus is on significant events, especially the global work he did before approaching the Oval Office, and how he rose from a successful and wealthy world-renowned mining engineer to a civil servant and a symbol of hope for war-torn and starving Europe.

Along the way are artifacts of his work in different countries, both engineering and his relief work. These include embroidered flour sacks from grateful Belgians and thanks from children across Europe. A video features interviews with adults who received this help as children and how it affected them.

Empty flour sacks were embroidered, painted and drawn to raise money for relief efforts. Hundreds were sent to Hoover as thank-you gifts.
Although he rejected many thank-you notes, Hoover particularly appreciated children’s thank-you cards.

Hoover, living in London at the start of World War I, organized the distribution of fresh food and ingredients to famine-stricken countries and aid to Americans trapped in Europe when the war began. Hoover continued his relief work during the war and after, as head of the new U.S. Food Administration.

The special exhibit, open through the end of the year, details Hoover’s work in 1920s Soviet Russia, as well as the food and medical relief he and his American Relief Administration provided to famine victims. .

And, of course, the museum chronicles the stock market crash and the unfolding of the Great Depression as well as the collapse of Hoover’s image as a man who could handle anything. At the end of the gallery, after the museum explains how Hoover responded to the Great Depression, there is a series of buttons where you can vote on how you rate Hoover’s work performance.

The museum is making an effort to exculpate Hoover in his response to the Great Depression and all I can say is that they make a good point while acknowledging some of his flaws. In the end, I came away concluding that he was not the right person at the moment. Of course, the Depression wasn’t his fault, but he could have reacted more effectively.

Although many people think the story ends there, it doesn’t. And the museum continues to take visitors through Hoover’s years of absence and how he regained his popularity and the nation’s admiration, primarily through continued public service at home and abroad, including in divided Berlin, after President Harry Truman asked him to undertake another tour of Europe to deal with food shortages after World War II.

A section of the Berlin Wall

It was a really nice way to end the story, I think. Except the real end of the story is fishing. Hoover never lost his love for the outdoors, but especially for fishing, and the subject of his latest book “Fishing for Fun and to Wash Your Soul”.

“Man and boy, the American is a fisherman,” he said. “This comprehensive list of human rights, the Declaration of Independence, affirms that all men (and boys) are endowed with inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which obviously includes the chasing the fish.”

My takeaways

My favorite galleries were the one dedicated to Lou Hoover, another Iowa native, originally from Waterloo and passionate about geology. She and Hoover met in a lab at Stanford. She was also a knitter, a successful organizer in her own right, and she traveled the world with her husband and two sons. She led the American Women’s War Relief Committee in London and helped keep the Belgian silk industry alive by finding markets and customers for artisans.

She also held office with the Girl Scouts of America, inspired thousands of girls to join, and is credited with leading the first Girl Scout cookie drive in 1935.

My other favorite covered Hoover’s campaign for the presidency and his inauguration. He didn’t particularly want the job, but in 1928 President Calvin Coolidge turned down another run and Hoover had a national platform as head of the Commerce Department to go along with his reputation for helping starving children in Europe. and assist residents during Greater Mississippi. Flood of 1927. He was considered the obvious choice.

I liked the exhibit partly because the campaign material was interesting (and creative!), and that goes some way to explaining why he ultimately won against Catholic candidate Alfred Smith. Also the corn cane carried by the Iowans who attended the inaugural ceremonies.

Country bulbs
The corn cane carried by Iowans at Hoover’s inauguration
Pencil erasers engraved in images of Hoover and Al Smith

And I appreciated how thorough the museum is in documenting the man who never wanted to be a politician, but wanted to help others. It shows more depth and different angles to Hoover than a lot of people remember him, and it’s very interesting. There was too much bashing of FDR, but that was what I expected.

Visiting the museum took me about three hours, but I doubt it should take that long. I’ve been known to have to meet my family when leaving museums because I stay to read everything.

I walked around the little neighborhood and my last stop was at the Hoovers’ Grave, which is a peaceful and beautifully landscaped spot. It can be reached on foot from the museum or a very short drive away.

Grave of Herbert and Lou Hoover
The graves of Herbert and Lou Hoover

And yes, I went to the gift shop. Yes, I bought a coffee mug.

I also purchased a special bag of coffee from Deep River Coffee Roasters in Iowa for the museum called “Herbert Hoover’s Good Will Blend”. It’s weak, but good.

The author’s new coffee mug and coffee

It was the first presidential library I visited, but I know I will visit others. Probably all eventually. And I would recommend Hoover to anyone who wants to know more about him.

Nikoel Hytrek

Got a story idea or something I should know? Email me at [email protected] You can also contact me by DM on Twitter at @n_hytrek.

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