On this day in 1930, President Herbert Hoover gives a press conference in which he offers plans for relief of individuals and businesses affected by a series of devastating droughts. The droughts, combined with a major stock market crash in October 1929, resulted in dire economic conditions in the country that lasted throughout the early to mid-1930s, an era known as the “Great Depression.”
In 1930, the drought conditions had caused bankruptcies among small farmers who were then forced off their lands in search of work. A domino effect resulted in layoffs of workers in farm-related industries and agricultural banking. These unemployed agricultural workers flooded a labor market already suffering from job losses due to the stock market crash of 1929. In addition, water levels in some places shrunk to the point where public health was threatened by diseases caused by stagnant water.
Although critics later blamed Hoover for not doing enough to fight the Great Depression, his press conference of August 15 indicates that he at least attempted to put forward some emergency measures to stave off the economic collapse of the agricultural industry. In his statement, Hoover called for a mass mobilization of aid workers in response to the drought; asked state governors to organize committees to draft suggestions on how to aid the unemployed; and tasked the Red Cross with getting immediate aid to impoverished families. He asked the War Department to provide artillery range land to Montana cattle and sheep farmers for grazing. He also proposed a plan that Franklin Roosevelt would later expand upon: increasing federal money to drought-stricken areas to begin road-building programs for unemployed workers.
Hoover’s piecemeal, primarily state-led relief plan, however, was not enough. As economic conditions worsened over the next two years, growing numbers of Americans plunged into poverty and shanty-towns of unemployed men sprang up in city parks; they were dubbed “Hoovervilles.” Hoover and his wife Lou were criticized for maintaining a lavish lifestyle in the White House; this perceived lack of concern on the part of the president for his fellow citizens, combined with his reluctance to implement government spending relief programs, resulted in his ouster in 1932. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was swept into office that year on a platform of increased government-spending programs that he called the “New Deal.” These programs included the establishment of massive infrastructure-construction projects, Social Security and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Despite his reputation for insensitivity, Hoover’s political career, both before and after his stint in the White House, included high-level positions in humanitarian-aid policy development. After World War II, President Truman tasked Hoover with finding ways to deal with a widespread European famine caused by the prolonged fighting. Hoover is best remembered, however, as the man who failed to save the nation from the Great Depression.