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Hoover and Books

Bookshelves in President Hoover's private study in the refurbished "Lincoln Bedroom," 1930.
Bookshelves in President Hoover's private study in the refurbished "Lincoln Bedroom," 1930.

A love of books is rarely innate and usually the result of careful cultivation. Herbert Hoover described a moment when he was a teenager in Salem, Oregon when Miss Jennie Gray took an interest in his education. "She took me to the small library in the town," according to Hoover's published memoirs, "and borrowed for me a copy of Ivanhoe. That opening of the door to a great imaginative world led me promptly through much of Scott and Dickens, often at the cost of sleep. Years later, this reading added to the joys of exploring the towns and countryside in England and Scotland." It also began Hoover's life-long love of books and reading.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library contains several different sources for Hoover's reading habits. The first are card files containing author, title and subject entries on books that the Hoovers owned during his tenure as Secretary of Commerce and his presidency. Another card file contains author, title and subject entries on books that were gifts to the Hoovers. A final card file contains a list of books borrowed from the Library of Congress. The hundreds of titles clearly establish that Herbert and Lou Hoover were voracious readers.

When they occupied the White House in March 1929, the Hoovers were surprised to see that the residence was bereft of any serious reading materials. The problem was brought to the attention of the American Booksellers who appointed a committee of ten prominent individuals to rectify the situation. The committee was asked to select 500 books "to fit the reading moods of the present and future occupants of the White House and of their guests. It is not a library for reference, but for enjoyment." The subject matter ranged from fiction (classic, contemporary, and detective), biography, history, politics, world affairs, travel, poetry, drama, philosophy, science, sociology, art, and children’s books. The "Home Library for the White House" was presented to President Hoover on April 25, 1930. Later Hoover quipped to a guest, "If they sent those here to educate me, I’m afraid it was too late. I'd read 85% of them before." The numerous renovations and changes by subsequent administrations have removed the library from the shelves and it is only known through promotional materials.

Hoover was especially fond of detective novels. One humorous illustration is found in a letter Lewis Strauss wrote to Hugh Gibson on May 6, 1919. Strauss served Hoover in many different capacities over the years and at this time was part of the American delegation at the Versailles Peace Conference. Many of the young men that Hoover mentored knew they were accepted as part of the inner circle when Hoover allowed them to refer to him as "Chief." Strauss wrote: "The Chief asked me to thank you for the gentle hint which you must have put in Mrs. Lansing's ear. As a result of which we are today in receipt of six volumes of very lurid fiction which have already been dog-eared by the President, Col. House and the Secretary of State. The Chief was beginning to fear that he had come to the end of such things, or at least, had caught up with the production of oriental murders, high larceny and diplomatic burglary. The receipt of these new horrors has given him a new lease on life."

Herbert Hoover Superhero?
Hoover Doodles

On August 10, 1962, Herbert Hoover celebrated his 88th birthday by attending the dedication and opening of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library -Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Accompanied by friend and former president Harry S. Truman, Hoover fondly reminisced about growing up in West Branch and celebrating the Fourth of July with firecrackers purchased by money earned from picking potato bugs off plants. While Hoover's attention was focused on the opening of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, another event occurred that was noticed by many of the young people in attendance. Marvel Comics came out with issue 15 of "Amazing Fantasy" premiering a new character - Spider-Man. Some may think the two events are mere coincidence. But evidence suggests a strong connection between the former president and the web-slinging superhero.

Herbert Hoover is among America's greatest doodling presidents. He loved to doodle while at his desk and during meetings. Typically, his doodles were geometric patterns and shapes rather than people, animals, or things. Designers discovered Hoover's doodles and used them in fabric patterns. Upon closer examination, one might also discern these geometric patterns as fanciful spider webs. Could it be that Herbert Hoover and his doodles were the inspiration for Spider-Man? A brief review of Hoover's extraordinary career could easily support a superhero connection.Clothing made from fabric printed with President Hoover's doodles. 

Clothing made from fabric printed with President Hoover's doodles.

Hoover on Baseball

Spring has come again, and with the warm weather begins a new season of "America's pastime" - baseball. Herbert Hoover was a fan of the game throughout his life; as President he had the traditional honor of throwing the ceremonial first pitch to open the season for the Washington Senators, and he attended other games when he had the time. He even made a special trip to Philadelphia to attend Game 5 of the 1929 World Series.

President and Mrs. Hoover at Griffith Stadium, Washington DC, opening day 1929.

President Hoover with Mrs. Hoover and members of the Cabinet at Griffith Stadium, Washington DC, opening day 1929.

After his Presidency, Hoover continued to attend baseball games on occasion, and for many years received complimentary season passes from both the American League and the National League. Hoover considered baseball to be more than just a game; it was also an important component of American culture and values. He served for over 25 years as the chairman of the Boy's Clubs of America, and when he gave speeches about issues concerning youth, he described baseball as superb vehicle for teaching children sportsmanship, a work ethic, and good morals. In a 1955 statement to a baseball executive he even said, "Next to religion baseball has a greater impact on our American way of life than any other American institution."

This quote was widely publicized, and in 1956 the Cincinnati Reds organization asked Hoover's permission to have it painted on a large brick wall at the end of the right field grandstand. Mr. Hoover apparently did not think that the quote was quite the right message, so he gave the Reds permission to choose from four similar statements excerpted from speeches he had given:

The greatest moral training, except for religious faith, comes from sportsmanship. And Baseball has had a greater impact on our American life than other American sports institutions.

The rigid volunteer rules of right and wrong in sports are second only to religious faith in moral training - and Baseball is the greatest of American sports.

Next to religion, sportsmanship is the greatest teacher of morals, and Baseball has given this greatest moral influence to our American way of life.

In the land of sportsmanship there are moral precepts second only to those of religious faith - and Baseball is in such a land.

The Reds chose to use the second of the four authorized quotes and sent Mr. Hoover a photo of the results:

Baseaball quote that was painted on a large brick wall at the end of right field in the Cincinnate Reds stadium.

It is unknown how long Hoover's quote stayed on the wall, but certainly by the early 1960s the Reds used the space for paid advertising. Hoover's musings on morals gave way to messages for banks, beer, and life insurance.

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