The Time Herbert Hoover’s Parents Mistook Him for Dead

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Herbert Hoover came into this world on either August 10 or August 11, 1874 (nobody present checked the time until well after the big moment had passed). As a native of West Branch, Iowa, he’d become the first American President born west of the Mississippi. But he almost didn't make it that far.

“Herbert was a sweet baby that first day, round and plump, and looked about very cordial at everybody,” recalled his aunt Agnes Miles. Hoover’s proud papa, Jesse, had personally given Agnes the big news by rapping on her window and announcing “We have another General Grant at our house!” 

Luckily for little "Bertie," as Herbert was called as a child, his mother's brother was an acclaimed doctor. Dr. Henry John Minthorn had earned his medical degree from Iowa State University and practiced near West Branch for three years, after which he headed east and earned another diploma through Jefferson Medical College. Fortunately, the good doctor was still around during the winter of 1876, when poor Herbert came down with a horrible coughing fit. The sickly boy hacked until he turned purple, collapsing in a heap. Terrified, his family threw some pillows over a table and laid down the now-motionless Herbert. Goose grease and then an onion poultice were smothered all over the child in an attempt to revive him. Neither worked.

A cousin raced off to find Dr. Minthorn, who’d been visiting with some patients. Upon hearing that his nephew was at death’s door, the physician made serious tracks. Yet, rapidly as his horses galloped, it looked like Minthorn hadn’t arrived in time. “We all thought [Herbert] was dead,” Agnes later said, “…The eyes of the infant were pressed closed with pennies; and a sheet was drawn over his body.”

But Herbert wasn’t dead—at least, not yet. Someone suddenly noticed a slight tremble running through the “corpse.” In a flash, Minthorn leapt over to wrap him up with warm blankets. He then removed a copious amount of phlegm from the toddler’s throat and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Gradually, Herbert came to. The Hoovers couldn’t believe their eyes. Neither could Minthorn’s mother, a fervent Quaker who was present at the time. In her words, “God has a great work for that boy to do; that is why he was brought back to life.”

Four years later, Jesse Hoover passed away, and four years after that, Herbert's mother, Hulda Hoover, died as well, rendering Herbert and his two siblings (Theodore and Mary) parentless. The children were split up among family, and Uncle Henry John—the one who had saved his life as a toddler, and who was now living in Oregon—came to the rescue once again when he took Herbert in the following year.