Promising Chickens, Delivering an Egg: Food Helps Hoover Win Election

Perhaps no presidential candidate had a campaign which used more references and allusions to food than did the 1928 Republican nominee Herbert Hoover.

The famous “Chicken in Every Pot” slogan of the Hoover campaign used in an ad.

Ironically, however, he never uttered the golden words most commonly attributed to him, a promise to voters that if elected, he would guarantee that every American home would have “a chicken in every pot.”

That colorful phrase was actually one of several generated by the Republican National Committee used in newspaper advertisements for Hoover’s candidacy. It was, however, a catchier summation of his declaration in one campaign speech, that, “the slogan of progress is changing from the full dinner pail to the full garage.”

One of Hoover’s official campaign slogans, “Lest We Forget,” was a reference to his own monumentally heroic and successful effort to save the people of Belgium from starving.

In 1914, after Germany invaded Belgium during World War I, Hoover oversaw the gathering and shipment of some 20,000 tons of non-perishable food to its people and helped save them from starving to death.

Hoover oversees the collection of donated foodstuffs for Belgium.

While his wife, who helped in the effort, was relieved to see Belgians in long bread lines because it meant they were eating, Hoover avoided the sight of them, becoming depressed and even welling with tears.

During the worst of the starvation, Hoover helped to feed 10.5 million people a day.

In 1917, impressed with Hoover’s work for Belgium, President Woodrow Wilson appointed him as the first “Food Administrator” of the U.S., when the nation entered World War I.

Hoover encouraged the use of corn-based products as food substitutes.

The objective was to call upon Americans to voluntarily follow government rationing regulations of food from the national supplies which were needed to feed the U.S. armed forces sent overseas to fight.

Under Hoover, the potato was depicted as a wartime food savior.

Hoover made it easy, by creating certain days each week when certain foods were forsaken, such as “meatless Mondays,” and “wheatless Wednesdays.”

Perhaps the most famous saying which caught on was, “When in Doubt, Eat Potatoes!”

A Hooverized Valentine’s card.

When Hoover declared that “food will win the war,” however, it became the slogan around which so many people willingly rallied that the federal government never needed to put official rationing regulations in place.

The entire process of using other less-necessary foods as substitutes for those in demand (molasses instead of sugar, margarine instead of butter, breadcrumbs as meat filler, gelatin to increase the size of desserts) and the sacrificing of certain foods on certain days became immortalized as “Hoovering.”

Unlike many Presidents and political leaders, however, Hoover was also strict about personally following the food guidelines of his agency.

Hoover, his wife Lou, and their sons Allan and Herbert, Jr. ate dinners of rice cakes, potato fish loaf and barley cake, using food substitutes for the foods that needed to be conserved.

Hoover in cartoon as Food Administrator.

As one magazine praised the family: “Mr. Hoover can go to sleep every night with an absolutely clear conscience so far as his own observation of the principals and practice of wartime food conservation is concerned….In that home is as Food Administrator of even greater authority than he. For Mrs. Hoover is just as much on her job as her husband is on his.”

Lou Hoover was also instrumental in quelling a wild rumor about “Hoovering,” that the federal government would be conducting inspections of the cupboards of American homes and confiscating any canned foods being kept there.

The Hooverizing food guidelines.

Lou Hoover, a Girl Scouts official, led the movement of citizens growing vegetables and fruits in home gardens during World War I.

She further used her skill and visibility as an official (and later president) of the Girl Scouts to encourage the planting and cultivation of home gardens, so citizens could grow their own vegetables and fruit.

With the end of the war and Wilson Administration, Hoover was appointed Secretary of Commerce under both Presidents Harding and Coolidge. In that capacity, he again proved his skill with managing large shipments of food and yet again was responsible for saving the lives of millions of people in a country other than his own.

He organized the donations and shipments of food to those in Central Europe now experiencing starvation from shortages.

Having lived in all regions of the globe, Hoover made no distinction on the value of human life based on nationality.

When he did the same for those enduring a horrifying famine who were living in areas of Russia held by the Bolsheviks, however, Hoover encountered resistance and criticism from members of Congress.

His efforts to feed the Russians being depicted as helping communism to take firmer root in Russia.

To this, Hoover snapped, “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!”

His humanitarianism earned Hoover the honor of being named by the New York Times as one of the “ten most important Americans.”

Hoover visits children in a refugee camp during the 1927 Mississippi flood.

Even just one year before the presidential election, Hoover again went into action, organizing a relief effort to those families devastated by a Mississippi River flood, although the endeavor was on a far smaller scale than those he’d organized for Europe.

At the time of his 1928 presidential candidacy, the public did not know that during the period he had Americans “Hoovering,” this millionaire and his wife had a house full of servants who were managing the family’s food rationing. And, having lived all around the world, Hoover had also developed a personal taste for more exotic and thus expensive foods.

None of this took away from his accomplishments and was irrelevant to his being elected President, partially on the extraordinary statement that, “given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, and we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this Nation.”

The famous headline.

Just nine months after Hoover was inaugurated, of course, the stock market took its most dramatic dive in history, prompting Variety magazine to declare in its famous headline, “Wall Street Lays An Egg.”

Men selling apples on street corners during the Great Depression.

As months of massive unemployment only worsened, the glowing catchphrases of “Lest We Forget,” “Chicken in every Pot,” “Food Will Win the War,” and “Hoovering” were never again used, except in bitter sarcasm about the President who had managed to feed the Belgians and Russians but seemed unable to help starving Americans.

Hoover did ask Congress to let the Red Cross accept Farm Board agricultural surpluses, but it was too little too late and lacked the impetus of his earlier food relief programs.

“Blame it on Hoover!” was the new one-liner most often muttered among those forced to famously sell apples on street corners, although one of the older slogans had become far more relevant and practical.

“When in Doubt, Eat Potatoes.”

The Hoovers on Inauguration Day, March 1929.

Categories: First Families, First Ladies, Politics, Presidential Foods, The Hoovers

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2 replies »

  1. Interesting to note that people in Hoover’s time/admin; were also getting paranoid about rationing leading to govt going straight to inspection of private home’s (kitchens & pantry). I am very much opposed to the aggressive way Mrs. Obama is pushing her “Let’s Move Program”. Already schools R inspecting lunch bags of kids who bring their lunch from home. I read a story of one Mom who got “busted” for her daughter’s lunch of a sliced turkey sandwich + other sides. Her daughter was given chicken nuggets (probably less healthier) & school lunch that day cuz her “brown bag lunch” was not nutritious enuf for the food police! Also disturbing reports of kids taken out of homes for obesity issues. When these over-wt. kids failed to loose wt., they went into foster care! We know several chain restaurants like Olive Tree & Burger King have signed on w/Michelle to develop new menus that will meet her specs. Idiot Bloomberg banning large glasses of soda pop made w/sugar! Soon, I will not B able to buy sugar, butter, & other sweets & high fat foods I love. No Obama votes from this fan of yours, Carl!

    • Susanne, as always I always appreciate your frank and fresh perspective on presidential history and pop culture. I’m not sure whether you are relying on federal regulatory sources directly or the word of commentators or analysts who have reached this conclusion but there is no federal mandate in the Nutrition Bill which passed with unusually strong bi-partisan support in December of 2010 that claims jurisdiction over such actions at the state and municipal level. In the private sector, such as the restaurants which you name, such measures are voluntarily employed. I believe it is always vital for each citizen to recognize what is specifically stipulated by federal regulation and what is merely attributed, anecdotally, to it, often with partisan motivation. I think one need not necessarily agree with such federal regulations to recognize the limit of its parameters.

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