Though he was criticized as president of the United States, Herbert Hoover was an accomplished engineer and humanitarian who, with his remarkable wife Lou Henry Hoover, parented two talented children.
Born in 1874, and a graduate of Stanford University, Herbert Hoover started his career as a mining engineer in Australia and China. Early success facilitated his 1899 marriage to Lou, who subsequently joined him on his travels in Asia. While there, she learned Mandarin Chinese, one of several languages she would master throughout her life. Their two sons, Herbert, Jr., and Allan, were born in London in 1903 and 1907, while their father transitioned his business from China to England.
Lou Hoover was more than a wife—she was Herbert Hoover’s partner in business and the humanitarian work he directed during and after World War I—under orders from President Woodrow Wilson. Hoover managed the Commission for Relief in Belgium; the U.S. Food Administration; and the American Relief Administration—ventures that, cumulatively from 1915 to 1923, may have saved the lives of approximately twenty million Europeans.
Herbert, Jr., and Allan, born long before their father’s political career started, were influenced more by their father’s life as a global businessman and humanitarian, than by his subsequent career in Washington, D.C., as Secretary of Commerce and President of the United States.
Herbert Charles Hoover, Jr. (1903-1969)
Born in London on August 4, 1903, Herbert Charles Hoover, Jr., accompanied his parents during the final years of their globetrotting careers. When the family returned to California, Herbert moved to a six room cottage near Stanford, while his father joined the board of trustees. Herbert, Jr.—or “Herb” as he was usually called (his father was “Bert”), soaked in dinner table talk about science and engineering. It inspired him to try sophisticated “play,” such as building a dam across a nearby creek, studying wireless telegraphy, and constructing an automobile from scratch. He also earned money serving as a water boy for the Stanford football team. Fiercely proud and self-reliant, he steadfastly avoided taking advantage of his family’s wealth and social status.¹
During World War I, “Herb” was active in the boy scouts, sold Liberty Bonds–including one for $25,000–and received a special award from Ambassador Walter Hines Page in London for special service.² In 1918, though, he fell victim to the influenza epidemic then sweeping the world, lost much of his hearing, permanently. Despite this, he continued pursuing his interest in amateur radio after entering Stanford, where he studied general engineering, and became known for communicating with other radio hobbyists all over the world.³
Herbert Hoover, Jr., graduated in 1925, and married his classmate, Peggy Watson. They moved to Massachusetts; he entered Harvard Business School, and conducted research on economic aspects of the new aviation industry under the Guggenheim Fund for the Development of Aeronautics. By then, his father had become a national name, and was elected president in 1928. His eldest son and namesake, known to be shy and studious, became even more determined to achieve on his own account. Upon graduation, he turned down multiple lucrative job offers in favor of a modestly compensated position as a radio technician with Western Air Express.
Although he rose rapidly within the company, Herbert, Jr., fell victim to a bout of tuberculosis in 1930 that interrupted his career. After a year’s convalescence, he returned to business and eventually created (entirely with his own money) a company, United Geophysical, which became a major international corporation. The work, continuing over the succeeding two decades, entailed his repeated service as an advisor on oil policy to the United States and other governments.
Following a similar path taken by his father, Herbert Hoover, Jr., was appointed Undersecretary of State by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. Pursuing a strict code of ethics as he did throughout his life, he sold all interest in United Geophysics before accepting the new job. Asked why he took the position, he replied, “I do not think of such service in terms of sacrifice, for the chance to serve one’s country, at any time and in any way, is the greatest privilege that a man can have.” He performed honorably in that capacity under John Foster Dulles until 1957.⁴
Herbert Hoover, Jr. had three children with his wife Peggy, retired from public service after 1957, and passed away in 1969.
Allan Henry Hoover (1907-1993)
Herbert Hoover’s second son, Allan, though studious like his older brother, possessed a decidedly quirkier personality. During World War I in London, when a zeppelin raid drove everyone else into bomb shelters, Herbert Hoover was astonished to find Allan on the rooftop watching the raid with his brother. Obsessed with animals as a child, Allan kept many kinds of pets; but when he was fourteen he received two alligators from a family friend. At the time the Hoovers were living in Washington, D.C., and the boy tried to keep the gators overnight in bathtubs. Later, he transferred them to a fish pond outside the home. Eventually, they became too big (and possibly ferocious) to maintain, so he donated them to the zoo and took up stamp collecting.⁵
The adventures continued. In 1926—at sixteen–Allan went to Europe alone. While he was in Rome, he bought a rattletrap automobile from a small garage and used it to drive around the continent. Following the family’s entrepreneurial spirit, and after finishing his trip, Allan restored the car and sold it in Paris, using the proceeds to pay his way home. He went on to study economics at Stanford, where his handsome appearance and good manners earned him the reputation as a “prince charming” among his female fellow students.⁶
After graduating, Allan followed his older brother’s footsteps to Harvard Business School. On breaks, he went to visit his father, then president, at the White House. While there, he became known for throwing parties with jazz bands which enthralled the “younger set.” His seemingly wild ways earned a mild rebuke, however, when he was summoned to a Los Angeles traffic court in 1932 and fined $7 for speeding—an incident that the scandal-hungry press made sure not to miss. Unfazed, he decided to settle in the San Joaquin Valley, and moved into agribusiness. Allan Hoover also joined the Los Angeles Bachelor’s Club, only to give it up to marry Margaret Coberly in 1937.⁷
Still a free spirit, he channeled much of his creative energy into paying tribute to his father, who lost re-election in 1932 and was treated with contempt by the national media for the remainder of the decade. In 1935 Allan purchased Herbert Hoover’s birthplace in West Branch, Iowa, and had it restored. It would become the basis for the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, and eventually the Hoover Presidential Library, for which Allan helped to raise funds. He later helped lead the Hoover Foundation and the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. Successful in international business– agriculture, engineering and finance–Allan Hoover fathered three children, and he passed away in 1993.⁸