Hoover on Mine Management

Most readers will know that Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the USA, had a successful previous career as a mining consultant. He worked for Bewick, Moreing & Co, a firm based at 62 London Wall, London UK. I am a collector of Hoover memorabilia from that period and have several of his signed original letters.
Hoover wrote regularly about the mines that his firm was managing. Here are some of his observations:

“(Mr Govett) is paying the firm a considerable sum for three purposes: first, inspection and control of his managers; second, advice in London; and third, for the advantage of the firm’s wide mining knowledge and assistance in discovery and furtherance of new business.” (20/8/1906)

“It matters very little to us what salaries we have to pay Mine Managers, so long as they run things smoothly, because the Companies pay the amount of the salary and they are much better satisfied to pay an extra thousand a year and have no bumps.” (22/6/06)

“It is my idea that we shall start to sink at least 5 new shafts, with 5 new pumping equipments, as quickly as (possible) … Take some man of the type of Shipman, and make him the General Manager…with a central office somewhere, and a decent motor car to get about in, and I believe it would be unnecessary to have otherwise than a Foreman and a Timekeeper on each of the various works which we will have going if the business comes off”. (22/6/06).

What can we learn from these extracts? Hoover was aware of the need for economy and would not have non-essential employees. He had a reputation early in his career for tough cuts to his mining workforce. But he knew that he had to pay for skilled management. He tried to recruit the best managers and see that they were well rewarded. He recognized the leverage offered by wise spending on management and engineering.

Hoover was very successful. He once bragged to his brother that he was the highest paid mining consultant in the world. He worked at board, management and technical levels simultaneously. It must be admitted that he was at the fringes of some shady deals, and made enemies. He also brought to life some very important companies, not the least being the Zinc Corporation which grew into today’s Rio Tinto. That investment decision required vision and technical innovation. Other projects like the Berry Leads were abject failures, but he tried hard and he retained his credibility with investors.

Hoover left the mining industry during the Great War. He easily won the Republican nomination in 1928 and then a landslide election. Eight months later the Wall Street crash led into the Great Depression. Hoover’s management approach did not work, and he lost the next election to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s promise of a New Deal. The approach that had worked for him so well in business did not translate into Presidential success.

Peter McCarthy


Chairman Emeritus / Principal Mining Consultant

Image courtesy of Elmer Wesley Greene (1907–64) – http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome, Public Domain, Link