It seems unlikely that a humble farm boy from Berwick, Ill. Would become one of the world’s greatest economists, help the Allies defeat Hitler, and receive the Medal of Freedom, but these are just what a handful of Calvin Bryce Hoover’s accomplishments.
Born to a railroad section foreman in 1897, young Bryce (as he was called) worked with his father on the railroad and on their farmhouse during school vacations. In June 1910, after graduating from the 8th grade Berwick Schools, he was sent to live in Monmouth, so that he and his sister could attend Monmouth High School. It was a hardship for the family, as school fees had to be paid by students living outside the Monmouth district, but the children earned their room and board by working as domestic servants.
Bryce’s educated father recognized his son’s genius and was determined to prepare him for college. He never dreamed, however, that his son would one day become the dean of the graduate school at Duke University and widely regarded as the founder of the field of comparative economics.
From a young age, Bryce Hoover became fascinated by the economic systems of the nations of the world. His first encounter with Europeans came in the summer of 1913, when he worked as a timekeeper for Greek immigrant gangs working on the railways in Mercer County. That same year, at the age of 16, Hoover was appointed as a replacement for a position at the Annapolis Naval Academy, but the opportunity to attend never presented itself.
Graduating from Monmouth High School in 1914, Hoover entered Monmouth College, where he was active in the Eccritean Literary Society and became associate editor of the student newspaper. Also in the literary society was Takashi Komatsu, a brilliant Japanese student, who would later become a steamboat cadre for his native land. Hoover listened intently to Komatsu’s detailed descriptions of the Japanese economy. He also began teaching ESL courses to immigrants from Greece, Mexico, China and Italy.
As the war in Europe grew fiercer, Hoover became an advocate for American intervention. In the spring of 1917, he left Monmouth College and enlisted in Company H of the Illinois National Guard. He was sent to Texas for training and before going overseas he got engaged to a classmate, Miss Faith Sprole. He arrived in France in June 2018 as a corporal in Battery D of the 123rd Heavy Field Artillery. For several weeks he had a pleasant stay, staying with a French family and visiting local sites, while attending school in the evenings.
Eventually, Hoover’s unit would be involved in battles in Lorraine, Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. It was rounded up in June 1919, and Hoover returned home to Warren County, where he was appointed principal of Youngstown Schools, with a salary of $ 115 per month. In July, he and Faith got married.
In 1920, the Hoovers moved to Eagle Grove, Iowa, where he briefly returned to farming and where their first daughter, Carol, was born. Bryce then became principal of Goldfield (Iowa) High School, but his desire to continue his education led him to return to Monmouth College in early 1922.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree that spring, Hoover enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. In 1923, he accepted a professorship at the University of Minnesota, while completing his doctorate in Wisconsin. His second daughter, Sylvia, was born in Minneapolis in 1924.
With his doctorate in hand, Hoover, 28, accepted a position as an assistant professor of economics at Duke University, where he would remain a faculty member for the next 41 years, chairing the economics department for 20 years.
In 1929, Hoover was sent overseas to do banking research in the Soviet Union for a year. Accompanied by his young family, he settled in Dresden, Germany. During that year he also conducted extensive research into the rise of the Nazi Party – information that would lead to the publication of an influential book, “Germany enters the Third Reich”, and cement his reputation as recognized expert on Hitler’s economic regime. .
In 1934, Hoover foresightedly told a reporter: “The people of the United States could learn something from the current situation in Germany. Many Americans are used to talking casually about dictatorships and the need for one in this country. Others describe the Roosevelt administration as a dictatorship. The events in Germany can help present a clearer picture of what such governments really mean in action and show how wrong such ideas are. “
Hoover was appointed Economic Adviser to the Department of Agriculture in 1935 and that summer received an honorary degree from Monmouth College.
Due to his vast knowledge of the German economy, Hoover was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, eventually becoming head of Northern European operations in Sweden. His group succeeded in locating the Nazi synthetic oil factories, which were destroyed by aerial bombardment. This anchored the Luftwaffe, paving the way for a successful invasion of Normandy.
After the war, as an advisor to General Lucius Clay, Hoover prepared the Hoover Report, which established Germany’s post-war level of production. An active participant in the implementation of the Marshall Plan, Hoover was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1947, a decoration created by President Truman to honor civilians who played a role in the war effort.
Author of eight books and 100 articles, Hoover has conducted economic research in the Soviet Union, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. He retired from Duke in 1967 and lived until 1974.
Jeff Rankin is editor and historian of Monmouth College. A lifelong resident of Monmouth, he has researched local history for over three decades.