Poor Hoover

Fifty years ago Herbert Hoover was struggling for reelection. I was for him. I am reminded of it by all this recent talk about ''depression.'' Yes, poor Hoover was hit by a depression - something that he never understood. I watched him as secretary of commerce before he became President: he knew more about government in Harding's fumbling days than anybody else in Washington; his ascendancy also seemed conspicuous to me, even after Coolidge took over. Hoover had fed Belgium and was the best international organizer in the world.

Then he became President himself. In 1928 I thought he was going to be one of the greatest presidents in history. It was an inspiring statement in his acceptance speech: ''We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land....We shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty shall be banished from this nation.''

Banish poverty...what a thought! Yet in those days when people still noted new Model As on the streets, when Babe Ruth belted them out into left field, when America's wealth went virtually untaxed, when General Electric hit 396 and stock prices reached the highest point of all time, it seemed possible.

When Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover went over to the AT&T office here to see the first television show I went with him. I have his signature on a faded greenish-blue program now, ''Herbert Hoover, April 7, 1927.'' The program used the new word: ''Television. An Achievement in Electrical Communication.'' The story made the front page of the New York Times. I have it before me now, dated April 8, 1927, a two-column headline right under the ''All the News That's Fit to Print.'' It is arresting today:

FAR OFF SPEAKERS SEEN

AS WELL AS HEARD HERE

IN A TEST OF TELEVISION

Something to read aloud at the breakfast table! The headline flowed down column one:

LIKE A PHOTO COME TO LIFE

Eye-to-Eye Phone talk

Held Here with Hoover

In Washington

THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY

Pictures Are Flashed by Wire

And Radio Synchronizing with

the Speaker's Voice

COMMERCIAL USE IN DOUBT

But A.T.&T. Head Sees a New

Step in Conquest of Nature

After Years of Research

I like that editorial touch ''Commercial use in doubt!'' I must take it out and read it to my television set sometime after two minutes of boring commercials in the next TV show! After Mr. Hoover chatted by television that day in Washington there was a general back and forth conversation with New York; the news account continued: ''The speaker on the New York end looked the Washington man in the eye as he talked to him. On the small screen before him appeared the living face of the man to whom he was talking.'' Think of that, miles apart and talking face to face!

Poor Hoover, his shy smile slipping down into his high collar. The preliminary crash came Oct. 29, 1929, followed by aftershocks and in a few unbelievable weeks the stocks listed on Wall Street had fallen over 40 percent. I remember frail, aristocratic Andrew Mellon, secretary of the treasury, so thin it seemed a breath would blow him away. He wasn't disturbed by the crash: ''It will purge the rottenness out of the system,'' he said equably. ''People will work harder,'' he added. Yes, he proposed, ''liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.'' Things would be all right after that.

Back in those days there was a wring-out of the economy about every 20 years and Mellon assumed that this was just one more normal readjustment. So did Hoover. He called it a ''depression'' because he thought that was a softer word than ''crisis'' or ''panic.'' Today I read Leonard Silk in the New York Times questioning, ''Is this, then, a depression we are in?'' Of course not! What happened in the '30s gave ''depression'' a bad name; an incredible meaning indeed with a quarter of the work force idle.

Poor Hoover in 1932 struggled against impossible odds. He carried only six states. It is good to remember that after it was over he showed grace in defeat. At the December 1932 Gridiron Club dinner he dealt with it philosophically: ''As nearly as I can learn,'' he told them, ''we did not have enough votes on our side.'' There was gallantry in his quip.

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