Here are several interesting things I learned about Herbert Hoover from Kenneth Whyte’s 2017 biography, “Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times.”

Hoover, who was born Aug. 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa, caught the croup when he was 2 years old. After he turned blue, his parents gave him up for dead, closed his eyes and “put a dime on each eyelid.” Hours later, his uncle, a doctor, arrived, wrapped the boy in blankets and cleared his throat, prompting a coughing fit that allowed him to resume breathing.

When “Bertie” was 6, his father died. Three years later, his mother died. The boy lived with an uncle for two more years before traveling to Oregon at age 11 to join the doctor-uncle who had saved his life. He left Iowa with two dimes in his pocket and traveled by rail, making him one of the first to make the cross-country trip by rail, one of many firsts Hoover would claim during his 90-year life.

In Oregon, Hoover worked for his uncle’s land development business and bought a bicycle, which was his preferred mode of transportation at Stanford University in California, where he was in the inaugural class, and during his early years as a mine engineer in Australia and China. In China, he “delivered food and medical supplies on his bicycle” during the Boxer Rebellion.

At Stanford, Hoover was known as a hard worker but a poor student. “None of his classmates would have selected Hoover as the most likely among them to succeed,” Whyte wrote, but Hoover “had a resourcefulness bordering on wizardry and the capacity to inspire trust in his superiors.”

Hoover was a terrible speller throughout his life, occasionally misspelling his son Allan’s name. In March 1933, he offended President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt by sending him a note in which the first “e” was dropped from FDR’s last name.   

Hoover’s early mining career was as an agent for English bosses who ruthlessly deceived Chinese partners, who engaged in their own corruptions. Questions about the ethical aspects of the future president’s early career dogged him the rest of his life.

As a young mining engineer, Hoover amassed a fortune that lasted throughout his life. He circled the globe five times in five years at one point and bragged “that no contract had yet been written that he could not escape.” Whyte added: “His favorite deals were those so complicated no one else could figure out how they worked.”

Hoover met Lou Henry, his future wife, in a geology lab at Stanford. They were the same age, and she had been born in Waterloo, 70 miles from West Branch. But Lou grew up in California, the daughter of a banker who treated her like a son. She could ride, climb trees, fish, and hunt with a bow or rifle.  

They were married Feb. 10, 1899, between his assignments in Australia and China. There was little visible passion, but Lou clearly understood Hoover better than anyone, reading his moods and making adjustments that helped keep him balanced, even when they were thousands of miles apart, which they were for much of their marriage.  

Hoover’s lifelong humanitarian efforts are well-documented. He is credited with saving as many as 100 million lives, beginning in World War I when he shuffled back and forth between combatants to deliver food to occupied Belgium.

Also well-known at the time, but largely forgotten today, is the fact that many of President Roosevelt’s early New Deal concepts originated with Hoover. Bank reforms, public works projects, Social Security, even Roosevelt’s signature phrase that the American people had “nothing to fear but fear itself” was first uttered by Hoover, years before FDR spoke those words.