Lesson Plan - Get It!
In the year 1931, during the Great Depression, President Hoover dedicated the newly-completed Empire State Building in New York City.
Construction took barely more than one year for the 1250-foot skyscraper to become the tallest building in the world. The contractors tasked with this iconic chore completed four stories per week; they were efficient and were paid well for their commitment.
- What could a building of such grandiose size and splendor have symbolized to the American people during such a dark period?
- How do you think the average American felt about what may have seemed like Hoover's frivolous spending on brick and mortar in the very city where the problems all began?
In 1929, the period known as The Great Depression began. (Check out the Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar to learn more about it.)
President Herbert Hoover had been in office for less than one year before he was challenged with the country's worst economic breakdown. As you work through this lesson, look to answer the question of how President Hoover tried to lift the United States up from the rubble of economic deterioration and instill a sense of hope in the American people.
Keep a notebook handy so you can record your thoughts and potential answers to the above question as you watch the following videos and read articles related to Hoover's presidency.
Begin by watching Herbert Hoover | 60-Second Presidents | PBS from PBS Presidents:
- Read about the impact of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act from Encyclopædia Britannica, or read Bill Krist's article, Did the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Cause the Great Depression?, from The Washington International Trade Association.
- Go to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, and read the President Herbert Hoover biographical sketch. Please pay particular attention to this section taken from the biographical sketch: "The president would not, however, provide direct federal relief to the unemployed. As an alternative, he promoted indirect relief through public works projects and loans to the states. His programs proved inadequate, however, as the number of unemployed workers increased from seven million in 1931 to eleven million in 1933."
As mentioned in the sketch, Hoover did attempt to respond to the nation's problems. He thought the solution was connected to state and local governments, rather than the federal government.
- Volunteerism was a hallmark of his plan — he asked wealthy individuals to give more to charity, he asked businesses to keep employment and wages at current levels, and he encouraged state and local governments to provide more relief measures.
- He championed the notion of "rugged individualism," the idea that people could improve their situation through their own efforts.
- Despite his hopes and efforts, unemployment and homelessness levels continued to increase.
- Citizens were becoming agitated with Hoover's response to the nation's problems; his unwanted optimism made him an object of blame, and he quickly became the scapegoat for the American situation.
Herbert Hoover's first elected office was that of president. Some historians say Hoover failed in getting Congress to act. However, Hoover was able to encourage Congress to pass the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). The RFC gave more than a billion dollars of government loans to railroads, large businesses, and banks. Although money was lent to bankers, the bankers — for fear of the past repeating — did not increase their loans to businesses. Without new business, there was little hope for dramatically cutting unemployment. One public works project that was successful was the Hoover Dam, that employed many southerners during the 1930s.
Hoover ran for reelection in 1932, but the damage was done and he held the blame. With the unemployment rate still at nearly 25 percent, Americans wanted new policies. In 1932, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidency.
Continue on to the Got It? section to examine some political cartoons about this era.