Franklin Foer writes in a new Guardian article:

Americans of all persuasions began yearning for the salvific ascendance of the most famous engineer of his time: Herbert Hoover. In 1920, Franklin D Roosevelt – who would, of course, go on to replace him in 1932 – organised a movement to draft Hoover for the presidency.

Here is a similar claim:

It is no wonder that Progressive Republicans as well as such Progressive Democrats as Louis Brandeis, Herbert Croly, and others on the New Republic, Edward A. Filene, Colonel Edward M. House, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, boomed Hoover for the presidency during the 1920 campaign.

However, FDR was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate himself in 1920! (wiki)

Isn't there something of a contradiction here? Perhaps FDR was supporting a Hoover run before he decided to run himself? Am I engaging in an anachronism here?

  • That's vice-presidential candidate, no? Sep 24, 2017 at 9:25
  • 1
    @DenisdeBernardy Yes. Still, a vice-presidential candidate is part of a ticket and it's difficult for me to see how a person who was on that level in one party could have been active on behalf of somebody who belonged to another party. The whole thing just feels off. Sep 24, 2017 at 11:47

2 Answers 2


Question: Did FDR support Herbert Hoover for President in 1920?


Short Answer:

Hoover was a wealthy, admired, and world famous man before WWI. His humanitarian efforts both as a private citizen and later as an agent of the United States increased this fame and admiration by a few orders of magnitude. FDR during WWI was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, by comparison nearly a nobody. I say nearly because FDR was still tied to Teddy Roosevelt and thus still commanded more fame and name recognition than his achievements up to that point probable merited.

So did FDR support Hoover for the Presidency in 1920. FDR who was supremely political, tried to recruit Hoover for the 1920 Democratic Presidential Ticket, with himself as the Vice President. Unfortunately Hoover's fame was so great that he was also being courted by the Republican Party for their nomination. Hoover who's fame was magnified as a President Wilson(d) political appointee, declared himself a Republican and rejected FDR's proposition. As you mentioned FDR later obtained the vice president spot on the Democratic Ticket from James Cox the former governor of Ohio who secured the Democratic Nomination. FDR was 38 in 1920, and was four years younger than Teddy was when he was nominated for the same office. The Cox Roosevelt democratic ticket was soundly defeated by Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge in the 1920 Presidential Election with the Democrats only taking a few states in the south. Hoover was given the relatively low profile position of Secretary of Commerce in the Harding administration.

Note: Hoover would win the Presidency in the 1928 election taking office March of 1929 a few months before the Great depression began(October 29, 1929). It was his first elected office all his previous government positions were as an appointee.

More Detailed Answer

World War I ended in November of 1918. Franklin Delano Roosevelt(FDR) had been the assistant undersecretary of the navy under President Wilson. Herbert Hoover was a significantly more famous guy in 1920 than was FDR but was not from a political background and was thus somewhat of an unknown political entity.

Herbert Hoover was a famous and very wealthy engineer from the private sector who was famous for challenging engineering projects across asia (Australia and China) before WWI, and became even more famous during and after WWI.

Before the U.S entered WWI, citizen Hoover organized and lead an effort to repatriate 120,000 Americans from Europe. He lead and organized 500 volunteers who went to Europe and gave away food, clothing, cash and steam ship tickets back to the U.S. to Americans trying to return home.

As a private citizen, Hoover then organized and lead an effort to purchase and distribute food to civilians on both sides of the war. Hoover's organization basically feed Belgium for the duration of the war and at its height served 10.5 million people daily, with a budget of 11 million dollars made up from both Government Grants and private donations.

When the United States entered the War President Wilson appointed the famous and respected Hoover to lead the U.S. Food Administration. A kind of food Czar who would stockpile and secure American food supplies(purchase, store, and transport) for the war effort. After the War Hoover's Food Administration was tasked with feeding Central and Eastern Europe until their own economies got back on their feet. Something Hoover achieved with remarkable proficiency.

All this high profile service made Herbert Hoover a popular figure in the United States and abroad. His nickname was the Great Humanitarian. Young 38 year old FDR recognized Hoover's fame could be turned into political currency and tried to recruit him for the head of the Democratic Ticket. It all fell through though when Hoover declared himself a life long Republican and rejected FDR's overtures. Herbert Hoover would accept the relatively minor cabinet position as Secretary of Commerce in the Harding Administration.

After WWII the Truman Administration would again tap Hoover in the same role of organizing US food aid to Europe. In 1945, Hoover would again organize and distribute food across Europe averting mass starvation and do all this millions of dollars bellow what the Truman administration projected for the relief effort.

Herbert Hoover
Wiki: Herbert Hoover
Wiki: Franklin Deleno Roosevelt
NY Times: Herbert Hoover backed for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize


This theory is at least plausible. This Economic Encyclopedia makes the claim that Hoover might have been the real father of what we now call the "New Deal," and notes that "Many Democrats, including FDR, saw him as a potential presidential candidate for their party in the 1920s."

While Hoover was a Republican, he was also noted for his "Progressive" tendencies in the manner of both FDR and the other Roosevelt, Teddy. That set him somewhat apart from Harding ("Back to normalcy") and Coolidge ("The Business of America is Business.") and made him acceptable to left wing northern Democrats (less so to conservative Southern Democrats).

Mitigating the timing somewhat is the fact that in 1920, Hoover was age 46, and no one that young had ever been elected for the first term up to that time. (Teddy Roosevelt had "inherited" his first term from McKinley, while John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama who were elected President at the ages of 43,46, and 47 respectively, were decades in the future.) Hoover was a much more plausible candidate for the 1924 and 1928 elections (he actually ran in the latter year). FDR himself, was something of a surprise choice as Cox's Vice-Presidential candidate because of his age, 38 (four years earlier, and he would have been ineligible to run). But he had federal level and international experience that "balanced" Cox's "local" (Ohio) credentials.

  • Hoover was the “real father” of the new deal?, I just vomited in my mouth. Hoover was secretary of commerce in the 20s (progressive era of gov). Which means he opposed trusts and monopolies and favored prohibition. He was not a progressive or free thinking when it came to battling the depression. His conservative protectionist policies made the money supply smaller and the depression worse each quarter for three and a half years. Under Roosevelt’s first complete year in office every economic indicator was in recovery except one. The stock market which did not recover until the 1950s.
    – user27618
    Nov 29, 2017 at 6:11
  • Hoover was famous enough to run for President in 1920 as demonstrated by the fact that both parties tried to recruit him. His real deficiency was he had never held elected office, nor had he been a cabinet member prior to Harding making him a Secretary of Commerce. Also most Republicans thought he was a Democrat. Harding only got him confirmed by packaging him with his nomination for Secretary of Treasury Andrew W. Mellon, who was wildly popular among Republicans.
    – user27618
    Jul 9, 2018 at 19:04
  • I think Claiming Hoover as a liberal is somewhat of a misnomer. Both parties had liberal and conservative branches in the early 1900's. To my mind Hoover was more of a conservative because he was a self made multi millionaire who was famous for brining private money to bare on difficult problems. He didn't rely on government solutions. Even as the leader of the U.S. Food administration he resisted rationing rather wanted to use the free market to provide the surplus of food necessary. Ultimately he did ration, but reluctantly. Hoover was a can do conservative.
    – user27618
    Jul 9, 2018 at 19:13

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