Herbert Hoover National Historic Site: Birthplace and Museum

Heading west on I-80 toward Iowa City, we noticed a sign at the West Branch exit for the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. Hmm… side trip? Let’s do it! So, that afternoon on our return trip we did just that.

This national historic site, honoring the 31st president of the United States, is home to a visitor center, several buildings from Hoover’s childhood—either original or reproduction—and the grave site of President and Mrs. Hoover. Not part of the national historic site but on the same property is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Begin at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Visitor’s Center

Although we did it in the opposite order, it helps to begin at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Visitor Center. Park rangers there can answer any questions you may have, share tips on what to see based on your time allotment, and give you a map of the grounds.

Be sure to check out the exhibit room in the visitor center for an overview of the Hoover family and some artifacts, like the high chair and cradle that Herbert Hoover used as a baby.

Herbert Hoover's baby cradle in the visitor's center at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Herbert Hoover’s baby cradle

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum – Fascinating Facts About Herbert Hoover

Not having done our homework ahead of time, we went right into the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. We ended up spending the majority of our time there, learning about the interesting life that Hoover led. Here’s a quick summary of some fascinating facts about Herbert Hoover.

Hoover’s Young Life and Education

  • His father died when Herbert was just six years old. After his mother died four years later, he was separated from his older siblings and sent to Oregon to live with an aunt and uncle. He worked in his uncle’s real estate business and continued his education.
  • At age 17, Hoover was accepted into Stanford University’s very first class. He graduated before his 21st birthday, with a degree in geology, little money, and no job prospects.

Seeking His Fortune as a Mining Engineer

Likeness of Herbert Hoover sitting at a desk in a mine area looking over blueprints
Herbert Hoover in his mine engineering days
  • After college graduation, Hoover shoveled ore in a California mine for a couple of years before applying for a geologist position with a London firm. Since the company required someone at least 35 years old with lots of experience, Hoover bought a tweed suit to make himself look older and lied about his age. He got the job.
  • Through hard work and dedication, Hoover made a fortune as a mining engineer.
  • While working in China, Hoover and his wife were caught in the Boxer Rebellion. They and other westerners barricaded themselves with sacks of rice and grain. They were trapped for ten weeks, until a multinational force fought its way in and ended the siege.

Hoover the Humanitarian

  • During and following World War I, Hoover led humanitarian efforts. He organized the distribution of food to millions of starving people in Belgium and other war-torn European countries and refused to take a salary.

From Secretary of Commerce to President

  • People loved Hoover’s heroic efforts and wanted him to run for president. But he had no desire to be president. It wasn’t until years later, when Calvin Coolidge decided not to run for re-election, that Hoover relented and agreed to run.
  • Before his presidency, Hoover was secretary of commerce. While in that position, he warned President Coolidge that stock market speculation was getting out of hand and wanted regulatory steps to be taken to curb stock manipulation. Unfortunately, he placed the responsibility for those steps on New York State’s then-governor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who never acted on it.
  • People blamed Hoover for the Great Depression. He subsequently lost his bid for re-election to FDR.
  • President Hoover is credited with the building of the Hoover Dam (originally called Boulder Dam). Considered one of the engineering marvels of the modern age, workers finished the dam in just five years, two years earlier than planned.  

Back to Humanitarian Efforts

  • While most past-presidents move out of public life when their term ends, Herbert Hoover returned to public service at Harry Truman’s request. People overseas were starving following World War II, and Hoover jumped into action, visiting 38 countries in an effort to get the food needed to avert mass starvation among war victims.

Take a Self-Guided Tour of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Grounds

We spent so much time in the museum that the buildings on the grounds closed for the day before we got to them. The grounds are open 24/7, though, so we were still able to see the outsides.

The buildings include the cottage where Hoover was born. Hoover and his wife, Lou, restored the cottage following Hoover’s presidency.

The cottage where Herbert Hoover was born
Herbert Hoover birth cottage

Raised as a Quaker, Hoover spent a lot of time in the Friends Meetinghouse, moved to the historic site grounds from its original site about two blocks away.

Quaker Friends Meetinghouse
Friends Meetinghouse on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

A reconstructed blacksmith shop, similar to the one that Hoover’s father owned, is also on the grounds.

Reproduction of a blacksmith shop like the one that Herbert Hoover's father owned
Reproduction of a blacksmith shop similar to the one that Herbert Hoover’s father owned

Be sure to stop at the grave site of President and Mrs. Hoover. The simple, matching graves symbolize the humble life Hoover began in West Branch, Iowa.

Grave site of Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Grave site of Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou

Not far from the grave site, you can see a couple of farm buildings in the distance. Hoover’s uncle owned the farm, and young Herbert spent many days playing and working there.

The National Park Service restored the farmland to natural prairie land, with grasses that grow as tall as ten feet. Over two miles of trails loop through the land, so be sure to bring some walking shoes and enjoy a hike through this land that Herbert Hoover lived and played on as a child.

If you visit the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is located at 110 Parkside Drive in West Branch, Iowa. The grounds are open 24 hour a day. The visitor center and buildings are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Visit the website for further details.

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