Adversity Leads to Opportunity

Dignitaries in formal suits and top hats surround Herbert Hoover as he speaks among the pillars of the White House.
Herbert Hoover delivering his inaugural address in Washington, D.C., 1929

National Archives & Records Administration

" engineering career was over forever. I was on the slippery road of public life."

Herbert Hoover

From the ups and downs of his childhood Herbert Hoover grew to be a resilient and self-reliant man. As his personal achievements mounted, he came to believe that uncommon character opened doors of opportunities, and that individuals acting conscientiously and cooperatively could together solve great problems.

Four young men in 1890s clothes sit with their equipment for a surveying team portrait.
Herbert Hoover (bottom left) with the Stanford University surveying squad, 1893

National Archives & Records Administration

Stanford University

After years of hard work, Herbert decided to attend college. He applied to the newly established Stanford University in California. In 1895, he graduated with a geology degree. While at Stanford he met a fellow geology classmate and Iowa native, Lou Henry— his future wife.

A groups of men in the desert pose with two camels.
Mining engineer Herbert Hoover (left, on camel-back) in Western Australia, 1897

National Archives & Records Administration

Mining Engineer

Hoover put his geology degree to work as a mining engineer in Australia. His hard work paid off quickly, and his company promoted him to mine manager at the age of 23. He became known for his efficiency, practicality, and industriousness. Called the "Doctor of Sick Mines" his work took him to China, Burma,Siberia, Peru, and many other places around the world.

A 1919 photo shows a cargo ship with Belgian Relief printed on huge banners draped on its sides.
Relief ship, 1919. During and after World War I, Hoover organized shipments of food and other necessities to Belgium and other European countries

National Archives & Records Administration


Hoover's management skills stood out as he organized efforts to bring home 120,000 Americans stranded in Europe at the start of World War I. Increasingly interested in public service, he went on to assist Europeans in locating, paying for, and distributing food during the war. Nicknamed "The Great Humanitarian," Hoover's work made him world famous. Hoover resumed his global humanitarian efforts after World War II and inspired the United Nations' agency UNICEF.

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    A man speaking by phone in front of a primitive television camera in 1927.
    Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover appearing on the first inter-city television broadcast, 1927

    National Archives & Records Administration

    Secretary Of Commerce

    President Warren G. Harding appointed Hoover to his cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. In four years, Hoover made the department a hub for American business and government. Recalling his mining engineering knowledge, he encouraged industries to eliminate waste—and increase profits—by adopting more efficient production methods.

    A group of men stand around a seated Herbert Hoover who poses as he signs a treaty.
    President Herbert Hoover (seated) signing the London Naval Treaty limiting weapons, armaments, and the sizes of navies, 1930

    National Archives & Records Administration

    President of the United States

    During the nation's post-war prosperity in the 1920s, Hoover's reputation as a businessman, organizer, and leader won him election to the presidency in 1928 by huge margins. Four years later, voters, dismayed by the lack of relief from "The Great Humanitarian" during the Great Depression, voted him out of office in record numbers.

    Last updated: October 25, 2018