Herbert Hoover and the
American Standard of Living
Regina Lee Blaszczyk
In 1926, Herbert Hoover—as the secretary of commerce in the cabinet of President Calvin Coolidge—outlined his ideas about the relationship between material life and moral well-being in Liberty, one of the nation’s top weekly magazines. In a characteristically straightforward manner, the commerce chief contended that the extension of home ownership to the majority of the American population would guarantee continued prosperity, morality, and security.
Hoover’s proposition was timely. According to the most recent federal census, some 54 percent of households still rented their living quarters. In this context, Hoover believed that the privately owned home was a social necessity, one that stimulated “family ideals” while encouraging individuals to explore their creative impulses. With these claims, Hoover postulated an intimate connection between environment, personal fulfillment, and community stability. To foster such linkages he praised the cities and towns that embraced the new practice of zoning, urged bankers to devise better methods for making mortgages accessible to the masses, and commended the architectural profession for disseminating plans for well-designed small houses. In Hoover’s equation, the private home—a single-family dwelling on a suburban lot—constituted the cornerstone of the American dream. Indeed, in Hoover’s eyes, home ownership was the “first necessity of the American standard of living.”271
Hoover’s convictions about domestic tranquility and home life held enormous appeal to the men and women who read such middle-class magazines as Liberty, Saturday Evening Post, Delineator, Woman’s Home Companion, and Ladies’ Home Journal during the 1920s. To many, the commerce secretary’s aspiration to put a chicken in every pot—his aim to create a nation of homeowners—seemed within easy grasp, if only because of the decade’s buoyant quantity-production economy and unbridled technological