Hoover Goes to Belgium

Herbert Hoover is best known as the 31st president of the United States, a role in which he was much criticised. Glen S. Jeansonne reveals an earlier, more successful episode of extraordinary humanitarianism.

During the First World War Herbert Hoover, later to become the 31st president of the United States, earned the title ‘the Great Humanitarian’ and created the greatest private philanthropic organisation in history, saving an entire nation. That memory has now dimmed, yet it set remarkable precedents.

In 1914 Hoover, a young engineer born in Iowa and raised partly in Oregon, a graduate of Stanford University and one of the most successful mining engineers of his generation, happened to be in London. He had gone there to solicit British participation in the planned Panama-Pacific Exposition, designed to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. Hoover was stymied in his efforts by British politics and the outbreak of the First World War. The coming of war also stranded many Americans in Europe. They streamed into London and clogged the halls of the US embassy. Hotels, restaurants, railroad and steamship lines would not honour foreign credit. The US ambassador, Walter Hines Page, asked Hoover to assist. He and his friends created the American Relief Committee and used their own money to repatriate 160,000 travellers.

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Hoover Goes to Belgium

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