Herbert Hoover, mining engineer, humanitarian, statesman, and 31st President of the United States, was born August 10, 1874, in a simple two-room cottage in West Branch, Iowa. His Quaker family had helped settle the town, and their principles of honesty, hard work, simplicity, and generosity guided Hoover throughout his life of service to the nation and the world.
Herbert was the second of three children born to Jesse and Hulda Hoover. Jesse, a blacksmith by trade, sold his blacksmith shop and opened a farm implement business in 1879. The Hoovers soon moved to a larger house on Downey Street, but they did not enjoy their new prosperity for very long. Jesse died of a heart attack in December 1880. By taking in sewing and economizing, Hulda was able to save the money from Jesse's insurance policy for her children's education. A noted speaker in the Quaker community, Hulda was often called to nearby Meetings. On one trip, in 1884, she caught a cold that developed into pneumonia and then typhoid fever, which caused her death. The children were sent to live with various relatives. Herbert went to his Aunt Millie and Uncle Allan Hoover on a farm near West Branch.
When he was 11, Herbert was sent to Newberg, Oregon, to live with Hulda's brother, Dr. Henry John Minthorn, and his family Herbert attended the Friends Pacific Academy, where Dr. Minthorn was superintendent. In 1888 the family moved to Salem, and Herbert worked in the office of his uncle's Oregon Land Company. In 1891 Herbert entered the first class of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He graduated In 1895 with a degree in geology and went to work in the California gold mines. In 1897 he joined a British firm and worked as a mining engineer in Australia.
On February 10, 1899, Hoover married Lou Henry, whom he had met at Stanford. They had much in common: roots in Iowa, love of the outdoors, a sense of adventure, and college degrees in geology. They left immediately for China, where Hoover continued his career. There, in 1900, the Hoovers survived the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising of Chinese nationalists. Hoover became a partner in Bewick, Moreing and Co., in 1901. Known as the "doctor of sick mines," he circled the globe several times accompanied by his wife and two young sons. Hoover retired from the company in 1908 and established his own international firm of engineering consultants based in London. In 1912, the Hoovers' English translation of the 16th-century Latin treatise on mining, De Re Metallica, was published; it remains a standard reference work to this day.
A Life of Public Service
Herbert Hoover exemplified the ideal of Individualism and the self-made man. His expertise as a mining engineer made him a millionaire by age 40. Having been raised in the Quaker traditions of being humane and generous to others, Hoover then embarked on a course of public service for the rest of his life.
An Uncommon Partnership
Hoover's humanitarian efforts during and after World War I and service as Secretary of Commerce made him a highly respected figure. He easily won the Presidency in 1928, but the bright prospect of his administration was soon overshadowed by economic disaster. On October 29, 1929, the stock market collapsed, triggering a depression that forced Hoover's ideals into conflict. Individualism demanded that private institutions provide relief, but humanitarianism called for federal aid. As a result, Hoover did more than any previous President to relieve the widespread distress, paving the way for the anti-depression New Deal measures. He introduced banking reform legislation, created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, developed an agricultural credit system, and convened an economic conference to promote trade and stabilize currencies. It was not enough. Hoover's popularity evaporated, and he lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election. Hoover retired to his California home and devoted much time to the Hoover Institution. He maintained his interest in the welfare of young people and once again worked on food relief for European countries during and after World War II. His final acts of public service were to head two commissions to make the Federal Government more efficient.
Hoover's journey along what he called the "slippery road of public life " was not traveled alone. At his side was his wife, Lou. On March 28, 1874, Lou Henry was born in Waterloo, Iowa, to banker Charles Henry and his wife, Florence. The family moved to California 10 years later. Lou was skilled in athletics and possessed an analytical mind and an independent spirit. She was the first woman to graduate from Stanford with a geology degree. Her marriage to Herbert Hoover in 1899 began an adventure that took them around the world and to the White House. Their sons, Herbert Jr., born in 1903, and Allan, born in 1907, traveled with them.
Lou shared with her husband the belief in the equality of all people and the desire to help those in need, especially children. She was active in humanitarian causes from food relief to the Girl Scouts. She designed the Hoovers' home in California on the Stanford campus, as well as Camp Rapidan, the presidential retreat in what is now Shenandoah National Park. In the 1930s, she directed the restoration of Herbert's birthplace cottage. After 1940 the Hoovers lived at the Waldorf Towers in New York City. Their partnership of nearly 45 years ended when Lou died on January 7, 1944, of a heart attack.
Visiting West Branch
At the time of Hoover's birth, West Branch was a growing community of about 350 people. By 1880 more than 500 people lived here. It was a town dependent on farming, and even those who did not farm, like Jesse Hoover, supported farming. The town had schools, churches, hotels, general stores, livery stables, dress making and shoe shops, and other businesses reflective of the economic prosperity of the era. Today the buildings of the town and site help recall that historic setting. The birthplace cottage, blacksmith shop, Friends Meetinghouse, and schoolhouse, all open to the public, are typical of a midwestern farm community of that time.
Please be alert for posted safety messages. Boardwalks may be slippery when wet. Stay on established walks and trails. Do not climb trees and fences. Avoid creek banks, which are steep and unstable. Be watchful for poison ivy and ticks. Do not disturb animals or plants. Keep pets leashed at all times. Use designated crosswalks.
Herbert Hoover's long public career was preceded by an upbringing in this small farm town. Both periods of his life are represented on the walking tour through Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, which was authorized August 12, 1964, to preserve historical properties associated with his life.
The 14-by-20-foot Birthplace Cottage was built by Jesse Hoover and his father Eli in 1871. After the Hoovers sold the cottage in 1879, it had several owners until it was purchased in 1935 by President and Mrs. Hoover and restored. To President Hoover the cottage was "physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life." A private organization operated the site as a memorial and public park until it entered the National Park System in 1965.
The Blacksmith Shop, northwest of the birthplace cottage, is similar to the one operated by Jesse Hoover from 1871 to 1879, where young Herbert Hoover learned the work ethic that prevailed in this community.
Quakers believed strongly in educating both boys and girls. This one-story frame Schoolhouse was built in 1853 and was first used as a meetinghouse. This building originally stood two blocks from here at the corner of Downey and Main streets and was moved several times. It served as the primary school for the West Branch community when Hoover was a boy. The building was placed in this location in 1971.
A tributary of the west branch of the Wapsinonoc Creek runs past the birthplace cottage The west branch of the Wapsinonoc, to the east of the park, was central to young Herbert Hoover's environment. There he swam, fished, and learned the pleasures of the outdoors, which stayed with him throughout his life.
The Friends Meetinghouse was completed in 1857. The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, held services of silent meditation in this building. Anyone who had an insight or a spiritual message could stand and speak before the congregation Young Herbert worshipped here with his family. His mother, a recorded minister, spoke often at Meeting; she worked for temperance and other causes. The building has been moved two blocks from its original site.
The Statue of Isis, Egyptian goddess of life, was a gift t o Herbert Hoover from the children and citizens of Belgium in gratitude for his work on their behalf during and after World War I. Sculpted by Auguste Puttmans, the statue was located on the Stanford University campus from 1921 until the Hoovers placed it here in 1939 to overlook the birthplace cottage.
The House of the Maples where the Hoover family lived from 1879 to 1884 no longer exists, but the site is marked. The P.T. Smith House, next door, is the only house that Hoover remembered when he visited West Branch many years later. The Hoover children and their neighbors enjoyed sledding down nearby Cook's Hill in the winter.
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum houses papers and collections relating to both President and Mrs. Hoover. It was built by the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Foundation and dedicated by former Presidents Hoover and Truman August 10, 1962.
Herbert Hoover died October 20, 1964, and was laid to rest five days later in this hillside Gravesite overlooking the cottage where he was born. His wife is buried beside him. The simple stones of Vermont marble are in keeping with the Quaker ideal of simplicity.
The 81-acre Tallgrass Prairie beyond the gravesite was restored by the National Park Service in 1971 to represent the landscape thai covered most of Iowa until the land was settled in the second half of the 19th century. This fertile land was farmed by the time Herbert Hoover was born. The Isaac Miles Farmstead at the top of Cook's Hill, is typical of the 1870s 1880s, when Hoover was a child. Isaac Miles was a relative of the Hoovers.
Information for the Visitor and Researcher
Start at the visitor center, where you will find exhibits, publications, and a short video. The visitor center is located at the corner of Parkside Drive and Main Street, one-half mile north of exit 254 on I-80 in West Branch, Iowa. The site is open daily except Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. Park rangers will answer your questions and give directions.
Keep in mind that the neighborhood you pass through is reminiscent of the one young Herbert Hoover knew.
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. It is open daily except for Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. Besides permanent galleries, there are temporary exhibits throughout the year.
Source: NPS Brochure (2006)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
Acoustic Monitoring Report, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NRSS/NRTR—2014/884 (Misty D. Nelson, June 2014)
Aquatic Invertebrate Monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, 2008 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS—2010/053 (David E. Bowles, Hope R. Dodd and Jessica A. Luraas, May 2010)
Archeological Inventory, Testing, and Data Recovery at the James Staples House (HS 9), Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, West Branch, Iowa Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report Series No. 107 (Dawn Bringelson, 2008)
Bird Community Monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Iowa: 2005-2010 Status Report NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS—2010/102 (David G. Peitz, November 2010)
Bird Community Monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Iowa: Status Report NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR—2014/852 (David G. Peitz, March 2014)
Buildings in the Core-Area and Jesse Hoover's Blacksmith Shop Historic Structure Report: Historic Data and Archeological Data (Edwin C. Bearss and Wilfred M. Husted, November 30, 1970)
Cultural Landscape Report: Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (Land and Community Associates, September 1985)
Evaluation of fire effects and restoration progress through 21 years of prairie vegetation monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, 1982-2005 NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR—2007/052 (Michael H. Williams, Sherry A. Leis and Paul Christiansen, September 2007)
Fish Community Monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site: 2008 & 2011 Status Report NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS—2013/440 (Hope R. Dodd and Allison S. Keefe, January 2013)
Furnishing Plan for West Branch School, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (Heather Huyck, July 28, 1977)
Furnishing Plan (Section E): The Herbert Hoover Birthplace, West Branch, Iowa (Sally Johnson Ketcham, September 1972)
Furnishing Plan (Section E): The Quaker Meeting House, West Branch, Iowa (Sally Johnson Ketcham, October 1972)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2017/1479 (J.P. Graham, July 2017)
Grassland Bird Monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Iowa: 2005-2006 Status Report NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR-2007/024 (David G. Peitz, April 2007)
Historic Base Map and Ground Study: Herbert Hoover 1874-1886, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (Edwin C. Bearss, July 20, 1968)
Historic Furnishing Study: Primary Department of the West Branch School and Jesse Hoover's Blacksmith and Wagon Shop, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, West Branch, Iowa (Edwin C. Bearss, December 1973)
Historic structure report - Eleven core area buildings - Volume 1: Administrative and architectural data (William J. Wagner, August 1982)
Historic structure report - Eleven core area buildings - Volume 2: Appendixes (William J. Wagner, August 1982)
Historic Structures Report - Historical Data: The Hoover Houses and Community Structures (Edwin C. Bearss, November 30, 1971)
Historic Structures Report - Historical Data: The P.T. Smith House, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (Edwin C. Bearss, September 30, 1969)
Invasive Exotic Plant Monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site: Year 1 (2006) NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR-2007/018 (Craig C. Young, J. Tyler Cribbs, Jennifer L. Haack, Karola E. Mlekush and Holly J. Etheridge, March 2007)
Invasive Exotic Plant Monitoring at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site: Year 2 (2009) NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR—2010/289 (Craig C. Young, Mary F. Short, Lloyd W. Morrison, Chad S. Gross and Jennifer L. Haack, February 2010)
Jesse Hoover's Blacksmith Shop/13CD18: Excavation Grid Protocol and Unpublished Photographs from 971 (William Lane Shields, June 2012)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
Herbert Hoover Birthplace (Ray H. Mattison, November 10, 1964)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/HEHO/NRR-2019/2033 (David S. Jones, Roy Cook, John Sovell, Christopher Herron, Jay Benner, Karin Decker, Andrew Beavers, Johannes Beebee and David Weinzimmer, October 2019)
Vegetation Classification and Mapping of Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Iowa: Project Report NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/HEHO/NRR—2014/794 (David D. Diamond, Lee F. Elliott, Michael D. DeBacker, Kevin M. James, Dyanna L. Pursell and Alicia Struckhoff, April 2014)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 01-May-2021