The only U.S. president born in Iowa had a far different reputation around the world than he had in the United States.

Such was the fate for the president who presided over the start of the Great Depression during his 1929-33 presidency. Hoover was inaugurated 90 years ago this month; the presidential inauguration was on March 4 until 1937.

Herbert Hoover on Jan. 11, 1917. Credit: Unknown, courtesy of the Hebert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum

Hoover’s humanitarian work took place before and after his presidency, with projects like directing post World War I and World War II food relief to Europe. Hoover is known in 58 countries for generating food relief when people there were in post-war crisis, Matthew Schaefer, archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch said.

Opinion differed in the United States. “He’s the president of the Great Depression,” Schaefer said in an IowaWatch Connection radio report that aired on 21 radio stations, 20 of them in Iowa. “People faced deprivation. People faced starvation,” he said.

“And this is what he have to reconcile. This is the great conundrum of Hoover: Around the world, he’s a great humanitarian. In the United States, he’s that blankety-blank president who took us off the tracks into the Great Depression.”

American Relief Administration Food Distribution, Poland, c. 1919. Herbert Hoover led this humanitarian effort. Credit: Unknown, courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum

Thomas Schwartz, executive director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, said in the radio report this has left Hoover as a misunderstood person.

“People who still think of him as the Depression president, as kind of a do-nothing, cold, aloof  individual couldn’t be further from the truth,” Schwartz said.

“Hoover spent his entire adult life making sure that children were protected. They were provided with food, shelter, clothing, medicine during times of war and, more importantly, in those post-war periods, which were even more punishing than wartime.”

IowaWatch’s Lyle Muller assisted with writing this story, using information collected in Jeff Stein interviews.

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