Herbert Hoover and the Great Mississippi Flood

Thursday, May 19, 2011
Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover broadcasts a plea to the nation
Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover broadcasts a plea to the nation
Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover broadcasts a plea to the nation to donate funds for disaster relief for the victims of the Mississippi flood, April, 1927. Herbert Hoover Subject Collection, Photo File, Envelope V.

The Mississippi River is expected to crest at 57.5 feet at Vicksburg today, a foot above the record 1927 “Great Mississippi Flood.” In April that year the river broke through the levees, submerging vast expanses of farmland and destroying the homes of more than one million people.

Known for his monumental humanitarian relief work in Europe during and after World War I, then secretary of commerce Herbert Hoover (who's commerce department records are in the Hoover Archives) was called on to organize relief for the victims of the epic disaster. Hoover swung into action, assembling hundreds of ships to carry supplies, overseeing the creation of tent cities for refugees, and making radio and press appeals that helped raise millions of dollars for the Red Cross. “I suppose I could have called in the whole of the army, but what was the use? All I had to do was to call in Main Street itself,” Hoover said later. “No other Main Street in the world could have done what the American Main Street did in the Mississippi flood, and Europe may jeer as it likes at our mass production and our mass organization and our mass education. The safety of the United States is its multitudinous mass leadership.” Hoover did everything he could to provide the means for relief, but he knew then, as we know now, America’s greatest resource is its citizens and their boundless generosity, resilience, and hope.