The Great Humanitarian
Herbert Hoover's Food Relief Efforts
Belgium & France - Finland - Germany & Austria - Poland - Russia - Baltic States - Eastern Europe - Other Countries

In 1914, World War I began in earnest when Germany declared war on France due to her alliance with Russia. In order to invade France, Germany took over Belgium. This gave Britain a reason to declare war on Germany, since Britain and Belgium were allies. The British set up a blockade, trying to starve the soldiers of the Central Powers into submission. However, the blockade affected the civilians of German occupied countries more than the Central Powers.

During the blockade, the Belgian and northern French civilians were cut off from necessary food supplies; at the same time, the Germans refused to take care of them. Due to these events, more than 7 million people suffered from starvation.

Warehouse full of sacks of flour waiting to be distributed to Belgians


Herbert Hoover created the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) to help the victims of famine. At the time of the CRB's foundation, the United States had not yet entered the war, and Hoover was viewed as a neutral negotiator. As a result, he was personally able to deal with the English, French, and German governments, so that the CRB could bring aid to the famished citizens.

Food relief was essential because 10 million Belgians and French were dependent on it during the four years of German occupation. The first ship to deliver goods to the Belgians carried 1,018 tons of wheat, rice, beans, and peas. Close to 2,500 other ships took 5 million tons of food to the innocent civilians. By working together, Hoover and prominent Belgian officials ensured that the acquired food was given directly to the citizens of the starving areas.


A flour sack decorated with the symbol of Southern Belgium, the rooster

Through these extensive undertakings, 3 billion dollars were spent delivering 11 million metric tons of supplies to the countries in need. The United States funded most of the money, though some others, like Britain, did help out a bit. Belgium and France tried to cover the cost of the food relief efforts by taking out loans. However, during the Great Depression, the loans were deserted.

Letter of thanks to Americans from a grateful Belgian child

Click here for a translation



Even after the United States entered the war in 1917, Hoover still helped combat hunger. As the appointed head of the United States Food Administration (USFA), he encouraged the Americans to conserve food. Through these efforts, there would be enough to send to Europeans in need. Once the war ended, he continued to help arrange relief as head of the American Relief Administration for all of the European countries, as well as defeated Germany and the other Central Powers. In this capacity, Hoover enabled 6 million tons of food to be sent to just about every European country.

Herbert Hoover is, thus, credited with saving close to 10 million lives in this region —about 2 million in northern France, and approximately 7 million Belgians.


Men loading bread onto carts in Belgium
The following is a short clip from the 1928 campaign film "Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies."
Click to view the video

He also provided Belgium with relief during and after World War II. Belgium was mainly an industrial country, with an extremely large population. Once again during German occupation, in the 1940s, the Belgians were cut off from their food supplies, which increased the rate of disease and malnurishment. Hoover aided them by giving the starving people a sufficient amount of food in order for them to survive until the next harvest.

Poster advertising the Beligian Relief Fund during WWII


Considering that Herbert Hoover assisted Belgium the most in his food relief efforts, it is not suprising that the Belgians continue to honor him. On December 4, 1922, Belgian Senator Lejeune presented a statue of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of Life, to Hoover at the Stanford Art Gallery. In 1939, it was relocated to his hometown of West Branch, Iowa. Today, a Belgian museum is hosting an exhibit called “Remembering Herbert Hoover," portraying him as the "Great Humanitarian" and showing how he and the CRB helped them at such a critical time.

Statue of Isis located on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
A public outreach campaign was waged by the United States Food Administration to
encourage Americans to eat less so that food could be sent to Belgium and France.

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Created by: Ross Byerly, Kim Nelson, Desiree Clark, Meredith Tinney, Keziah Low
Special thanks to Craig Wright, Maureen Harding, and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum
Site launched: November 20, 2006
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