More than a decade before he would be elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover led the U.S. Food Administration, which exerted much control over the nation’s and Allies’ food supply.
The appointment cave even though the Republican Hoover was named by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, a bipartisan move that would be difficult to imagine in today’s political environment.
This May 1918 article describes the results of Hoover’s efforts:
Take wheat: Owing to the shortage of last year’s crop we had scarcely 20,000,000 bushels above our normal consumption and seed requirements. Practically all this had been shipped by Christmas. Then, in January, came the British Food Commissioner’s urgent call for 75,000,000 bushels before the new crop, if the Allies were to have food enough to carry on the war. In response to that call, the American people saved 50,000,000 bushels out of their normal consumption; it was shipped to Europe, and the war goes on!
How was this accomplished?
Hoover himself describes in a quotation for the article that much of it was due to voluntary cutbacks and a common sense of purpose among the American people, rich and poor alike. Alas, these are also two phenomena which would be much harder — or perhaps impossible — to accomplish today.
This quote is a little long — four paragraphs in total — but take two minutes out of your life because it’s worth reading in full, to understand the potential greatness that can come when a country like America is united in sense of purpose.
“A man came up from my State,” he said, “to attend a conference that concerned one of the most important food industries in our State. This man is a prominent official at home and a citizen of much influence. He was aroused over proposed interference in the industry by the Food Administration. ‘We won’t stand for it,’ he said. ‘It isn’t fair. We are willing to be reasonable; we don’t ask to make what we are entitled to, but this proposal is too raw. If Hoover insists on it, we’ll go after him as he never has been gone after before.’
“‘Better wait and see what he says,’ I suggested.
“After the conference the State official came to me. ‘How much longer can Germany hold out their food supply?’ he asked. I told him that Germany was practically self supporting before the war, and had since seized some of the richest farm lands in Europe. ‘But,’ he broke in, ‘it doesn’t matter. We’ll get them in the end. Of course, we have to make every sacrifice; think of what the Allies are doing over there. All that’s worth living for is at stake! We’re in to the limit. Hoover can take the whole industry if he wants it, do with it as he pleases. We’ve got to win. At a time like this who would think of profit?’
“That man did not seem to know that a change had been wrought in him, that something bigger than he had ever known before had got hold of him; for the first time he realized we we are standing for. And you see he wasn’t forced to do anything!”
After the war, Hoover would continue leading the agency under its new name: the American Relief Association. They were tasked with feeding millions of hungry people in 23 war-battered countries in Europe and Russia. He would be elected president in 1928.
One Year of Hoover’s Control: Food Enough for All Allies — Taking a Chance on His Faith in Nation’s Loyalty, the Administrator Has Succeeded in Using Volunteer Spirit to Assure Supplies for Democracy’s Hosts
Published: Sunday, May 26, 1918