Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover: An Unlikely Friendship

Truman Library
Truman Library / Truman Library

In 1945, as World War II struggled towards its eventual close, a fateful Oval Office meeting between Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman over Europe’s fate sparked what became not only an effective professional relationship, but a deeply personal one as well, despite their vast partisan differences. “Yours has been a friendship which has reached deeper into my life than you know,” Hoover once wrote of Truman, a sentiment often reciprocated by the latter president.

It all began towards the close of World War II in 1945, just over a month into Truman’s administration. Hoover had effectively exiled himself from public service since his landslide loss to FDR in the election of 1932. Before occupying the oval office himself, Hoover had twice risen to political prominence: First as a self-made millionaire in the mining industry, and again as a humanitarian organizer whose efforts in healing war-torn Europe earned him international renown. Capitalizing on his surging popularity, “the great engineer” handily won the presidency as a Republican in 1928, only to become the target of nationwide scorn after the stock market crashed just under a year later (hitchhikers in 1932 often successfully acquired rides simply by holding up signs which read “Give me a lift or I’ll vote for Hoover!”). After his victory, Roosevelt was quick to distance himself from his increasingly-disliked predecessor and, fearing that his political career was over, Hoover eventually retreated to a private life in California.

Recalling Hoover’s stellar performance in distributing nourishment and supplies to starving European families ravaged by the first World War, Truman decided to enlist the ex-president’s aid in rebuilding the continent after the second, writing in an invitational letter, “I would be most happy to talk over the European food situation with you… Also it would be a pleasure for me to become acquainted with you.”  On May 28, 1945, the two met in the White House—marking the first time Hoover had entered the building in 12 years—to discuss famine relief. Impressed by his humanitarian credentials and fervor, Truman later appointed Hoover honorary chairman of the Famine Emergency Committee, a role which sent him across the globe to procure rations for the needy and homeless.

Truman also secured Hoover’s legacy by helping to officially give the Hoover Dam its current name in honor of the president who had played a vital role in its construction (previously, it’d been dubbed the Boulder Dam). 

But apart from simply working well together, the two developed a sincere friendship over the years, one that lasted until Hoover’s death in 1964. In fact, the last words ever known to have been written by Hoover were sent to Truman via telegram on October 14, 1964, after the former learned Truman had slipped in his bathroom and fractured two ribs. The message read: “Bathtubs are a menace to ex-presidents for as you may recall a bathtub rose up and fractured my vertebrae when I was in Venezuela on your world famine mission in 1946. My warmest sympathy and best wishes for your recovery.”