Herbert Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa on August 10, 1874 to Jesse and Hulda Hoover. His father worked as a blacksmith and farm-implement dealer and his mother was a very pious woman who eventually adopted Quakerism. Hoover's idyllic childhood was shattered at the age of ten when his mother died in 1884, four years after the death of his father. The rest of his youth was spent with his maternal uncle and aunt, John and Laura Minthorn, who took him into their home in Newberg, Oregon.
Hoover was a member of the first class at Stanford University in 1895. He graduated with a degree in geology and became a mining engineer, working on a variety of projects on four continents and impressing others with his business skills. Within two decades of leaving Stanford he had amassed a personal net worth of about $4 million.
Hoover first drew note for his humanitarian work when he organized relief for the trapped foreigners during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. He later led major relief efforts during and after World War I. President-elect Warren G. Harding chose Hoover in 1921 to serve as secretary of commerce. In the Harding cabinet Hoover found himself to be one of the few progressive voices in a Republican administration that generally saw little role for government other than assisting the growth of business. He continued as secretary of commerce in the Coolidge Administration and when Coolidge chose not to run in 1928, Hoover received the Republican nomination for president.
Within a year of his winning the presidential election, the stock market crash of 1929 threw the country into the worst economic crisis in history. While the Republican Party saw no alternative but to let the business cycle run its course, Hoover took several unsuccessful steps to stem the tide of the economic decline. As the Depression worsened, banks and other businesses collapsed and poverty grew, and the American people began to blame Hoover for the calamity. The homeless began calling their shantytowns "Hoovervilles." He resisted the calls for direct payments to the needy, citing the importance of a balanced budget and the likelihood of creating dependency on a welfare system. The 1932 election brought a landslide for Franklin Roosevelt and his calls for more forceful government intervention to bring the country out of the Depression.
After his term ended, Hoover moved first to Palo Alto, California, and then to New York City, where lived at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. For the next 30 years he was closely identified with the most conservative elements in the Republican Party, condemning what he regarded as the radicalism of the New Deal and opposing Roosevelt's attempts to take a more active role against German and Japanese aggression. He believed fascism lay at the root of government programs like the New Deal and argued so in The Challenge to Liberty (1934) and the eight-volume Addresses Upon the American Road (1936-61). An ardent anticommunist and foe of international crusades, Hoover opposed American entry into World War II (until the attack on Pearl Harbor) and denounced American involvement in the Korean and Vietnam wars. His last major activity was heading the Hoover Commission, under presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, which aimed at streamlining the federal bureaucracy.
He died at the age of 90 in New York City on October 20, 1964. The research-oriented Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University is named in his honor.
(Sources: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum | Encyclopædia Britannica | Dictionary of Oregon History)