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Digital Exhibits

Secretary of Commerce, Undersecretary of Everything Else 

Herbert Hoover as Department of Commerce Secretary, 1921-1928 

 

Our Third Secretary of Commerce

Before he became president, Herbert Hoover rose to prominence as one of the most effective and influential members of Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge’s cabinets. From the desk you see [located in the Commerce Research Library], Hoover transformed the Department of Commerce into one of the most powerful federal agencies of its time. This display explores Hoover’s time as Secretary of Commerce, and the many initiatives the department took on under his leadership. 

Becoming Secretary

Herbert Hoover hesitated when President-Elect Warren G. Harding offered to make him Secretary of Commerce in 1921.  At the time Hoover headed the American Relief Administration, which provided critical aid to countries in need in the wake of the First World War.  Friends advised Hoover to turn the new position down.  The Department of Commerce was at the time a small agency with little political influence.  The outgoing secretary later informed Hoover that he could do the job in as little as two hours per day. 

Hoover nevertheless accepted the position when Harding gave him clearance to reorganize the department and expand its role in promoting American commerce.  Under Hoover’s leadership, the Commerce Department grew and flourished, as did its secretary’s reputation.  Soon known as the “Secretary of Commerce, and Undersecretary of Everything Else,” Hoover’s diligence and determination helped him win the presidency in 1928.

“If I take the post it will be only because I have the support of Mr. Harding in making it a real department of commerce.  Ever since it came into existence the bureau has been the department of commerce in name only—a collection of scientific bureaus with little real power.”

~Statement by Herbert Hoover, published in the Los Angeles Herald

Transforming the Department of Commerce

In 1921 the Commerce Department was a small, sleepy agency that, according to Hoover’s predecessor, did little more than oversee the country’s fisheries and lighthouses.  Hoover, a trained engineer and believer in the power of efficiency, transformed the Commerce Department into one of the most powerful agencies in the federal government.

Hoover reorganized and strengthened the various bureaus that fell under the Commerce Department’s purview and brought new ones into the fold.  In 1925, the Patent Office and Bureau of Mines were transferred to the Commerce Department from their respective former homes, giving the department more comprehensive administration of American economic activities.

The energetic secretary championed dozens of initiatives throughout his seven year tenure, leaving a permanent mark on the Commerce Department.  Here are just a few the projects that he undertook.

Hoover had President Warren G. Harding’s approval to change and expand the Commerce Department as he saw fit.  Here, Hoover and his wife Lou appear at a baseball game with the President Harding and First Lady Florence Harding. 


 

Before becoming Commerce Secretary, Hoover oversaw the administration of relief to countries in need during and after World War I. When a flood devastated parts of Mississippi in 1927 he again stepped into a similar role. Here he visits children displaced by the flood in Natchez, Mississippi.


 

Hoover visited the U.S. territory of Alaska with President Warren G. Harding in 1923. Their aim, according to Hoover, was to better understand the problems facing the people of Alaska, so that "we might give better service from the Government."