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

By Timothy Walch | Go to book overview

Determined Humanitarians: Herbert
and Lou Henry Hoover in Europe

George H. Nash

On March 29, 1914, Lou Henry Hoover turned forty years old. A few months later her husband Herbert did likewise. Living in London with their sons Herbert (age eleven) and Allan (age seven), the Hoovers were yearning for the day when they could uproot themselves from the Old World and return permanently to the New. For years, Hoover—a highly successful, peripatetic mining engineer with enterprises that girdled the globe—had been planning to go home to America and enter what he called the “big game” of public service. Having achieved his ambition of becoming a millionaire by the age of forty, he frankly felt that “just making money isn’t enough.”62 He wanted to do something more.

The events of August 1914 gave him his opportunity, on a stage and scale that he could never have imagined. August 10, 1914, was his fortieth birthday, but it is doubtful that he and Lou did much celebrating. As leading American residents of London, they were already immersed in coordinating relief assistance for panic-stricken American travelers fleeing the outbreak of war on the European continent.

Just six days before Hoover’s birthday, Great Britain had declared war on imperial Germany—the final link in a six-week chain reaction that had turned a crisis in the Balkans into a global catastrophe. In London, on August 4, the banks were closed, Hoover’s mining business was paralyzed, and American tourists by the thousands were vainly searching for passage home. Writing to a friend on that fateful August day, Hoover remarked, “If my judgment of the situation is right, we are on the verge of seven years of considerable privation.”63

The American engineer was more prescient than he knew. For the next seven years, privation did indeed engulf much of the world, and the struggle against it became the overarching theme of Hoover’s life during that period. Not personal privation, of course—Hoover himself remained financially

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