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Hoover, Herbert Clark (1874–1964)

by George H. Nash

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964), by unknown photographer, 1898

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964), by unknown photographer, 1898

State Library of Western Australia, 000890D

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964), mining engineer, humanitarian, and American statesman, was born on 10 August 1874 at West Branch, Iowa, United States of America, second son of Jesse Clark Hoover, blacksmith and farm implements dealer, and his wife Hulda Randall, née Minthorn. Hoover's forebears were Quakers. His father died in 1880, and his mother in 1884; for the next seven years Hoover was raised by relatives in Iowa and Oregon. In 1891 he entered Stanford University in California. Upon graduating in 1895 (B.A., geology), he worked for about two years in various mining-related jobs in California and the south-west. In 1897 the British mining-engineering firm of Bewick, Moreing & Co. invited him to undertake mine examination and exploration work on the Western Australian goldfields. In mid-May of that year he went to Coolgardie.

Hoover's principal duties at first were those of an expert 'inspecting engineer', evaluating mines and prospects in the 'bush' far to the north of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. On an early trip he visited the remote, little-developed gold mine, the Sons of Gwalia, near Leonora. Convinced that it was a mine of promise, he urged his principals in London to secure an option. Late in 1897 he methodically examined the mine, recommended purchase, and outlined a programme of development. Primarily on the basis of his work, his backers bought the property and floated the Sons of Gwalia Ltd in London in early 1898. From May to November Hoover was the Sons of Gwalia's superintendent and initiated its transformation into a spectacular mining success.

By the time Hoover left Western Australia in December 1898, he was one of the ablest and best-known mining engineers in the colony. Blunt and laconic, he had a phenomenal memory, prodigious capacity for work, and high ambition. An ardent exponent of American mining methods, he helped to establish single-hand drilling, disciplined management, and high standards of efficiency in the aftermath of a boom.

On 10 February 1899, in California, Hoover married Lou Henry, an Iowa-born banker's daughter who was also a geologist; they had met in college. They had two sons: Herbert Charles (1903-1969) and Allan Henry (b.1907).

Late in 1901 after nearly two years as a mining engineer in China, Hoover became a partner in Bewick, Moreing & Co. He inaugurated a crusade for improved management and cost reduction in their mines in Western Australia. In 1902, 1903, 1905 and 1907, he visited Australia for long periods, inspecting, reorganizing and rationalizing. By the time he retired from Bewick, Moreing & Co. in 1908, it had surged to pre-eminence in Western Australia; but its success and drive provoked controversy on the goldfields, including allegations of monopoly and of favouritism toward immigrant Italian labour. However, with Bewick, Moreing mines in the lead, Western Australian gold-mining in these years underwent a transition from the speculative excesses of the 'roaring nineties' to a new era of scientific, cost-efficient low-grade production. As much as any other man, Hoover was responsible for this transformation.

After 1908 the focus of his mining engineering career shifted, but he did not abandon interest in Australia. In 1905, with W. L. Baillieu and others, he had founded the Zinc Corporation (later Rio-Tinto-Zinc Corp Ltd) at Broken Hill and influenced its operations for several years. In collaboration with F. A. Govett, a London stock-broker, Hoover engineered several important mergers and flotations, including the creation of Lake View and Star Ltd, in 1910. By 1914 Hoover was a mining engineer, administrator, and financier of international repute. He was also the author of a standard mining textbook and, with his wife, the acclaimed translator into English of the Latin mining classic De re Metallica.

The rest of Hoover's succession of careers is better known, notably his direction of gigantic humanitarian food relief projects in Europe during and after World War I and his tenure as president of the United States (1929-33). He was a prolific author, writing three volumes of Memoirs, two books of political philosophy, and hundreds of articles and addresses. He almost certainly, however, did not write something often attributed to him in Australia: a love poem to a barmaid at Kalgoorlie.

Hoover died in New York City on 20 October 1964 and was buried in his native West Branch, Iowa, alongside his wife, who had died in 1944.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Tracey, Herbert Hoover — A Bibliography of his Writings and Addresses (Stanford, California, 1977)
  • G. H. Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, vol 1 (NY, 1983)
  • Hoover Mining Reports, 1897-98 (Western Australian Dept of Mines, Perth)
  • Sons of Gwalia records (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Hoover papers (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa, and Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, California)
  • W. S. Robinson papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

George H. Nash, 'Hoover, Herbert Clark (1874–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hoover-herbert-clark-6729/text11619, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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