Uncommon Americans: The Lives and Legacies of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover

By Timothy Walch | Go to book overview

IV
Progressive Ideals

For a historian considering Herbert Hoover’s career as secretary of commerce, the Great Depression looms large. Recognizing that no secretary of commerce—even one with such prodigious energy and such an extraordinary range of activities as Hoover—was in a position to control completely federal economic and monetary policy in the 1920s, his central position in the administrations of the decade nevertheless forces us to consider him in broader terms than is usual for political biographies.

—Kendrick A. Clements

No one before Hoover had done so much at the national level to improve the quality and quantity of housing in America. The sheer number and scope of his activities is astonishing. But the Depression hoisted Hoover on his own petard. As the economic crisis worsened, his policies catalyzed greater political demands for action, and his labors to expand the number and capabilities of public and private groups unwittingly laid the foundation for the New Deal housing and building programs.

—Fred A. Bjornstad

It is a time for rest and renewal, a time of preparation for rebirth. Hoover’s years at the Commerce Department—and the experiments within the Division of Simplified Practice and Better Homes in America—are best understood in this light. Who, after all, would deny that Hoover was right when he wrote, in American Individualism, that “education, food, clothing, housing, and the spreading of what we so often term non-essentials, are the real fertilizers of the soil from which spring the finer flowers of life”?

—Regina Lee Blaszczyk

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