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

In 1921, the Volga River region of Russia was plagued by famine. Forced appropriations of grain to the military and workers, combined with a terrible drought, resulted in peasant starvation. It was estimated that this famine could result in the loss of over five million lives.

"As one proceeds up the Volga River, the faces of the inhabitants grow thinner, their death lists increase from hunger, malaria and cholera and make the traveler involuntarily recall the 'black death' which originated here in the Middle Ages."

-Associated Press (11/9/1921)
Click here for a map of the Volga River, courtesy of CABRI-Volga
American views on food relief to Russia were conflicted.

Authorized by the Communist authorities Maxim Gorky, sent out an open request to aid the Russian peasants, which was answered by the American Relief Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover. Although Hoover was staunchly anti-communist, he believed that relief trumped politics and ordered all ARA employees to refrain from discussing social and political issues.

Camels were used to transport relief to remote areas.
The following clip on the Russian famine of 1921 is from the 1928 campaign film "Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies "
Click to view video!

The United States Congress appropriated $20 million in aid for the ARA to use for relief in Russia, a country with which the United States had no formal diplomatic relations.



The American Relief Administration was funded by the United States government, but also solicited donations from the general public.

The following clip from "Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies" highlights one form of food aid.
Click to view video!
Click to view video

The Russian peasants were so desperate for food that they had resorted to making bread (as seen at left) with substances usually considered to be inedible. Some peasants went to even further extremes. According to a Soviet police report:

"Right now [the peasants] are digging up bodies in order to eat them…"

Before food relief came, many Russians were eating bread made with ingredients such as clay, manure, weeds, straw and other unusual materials.
At one point, the ARA fed more than 10 million people a day. This was the ARA's most extensive food relief effort. In total, over 768,000 metric tons of relief supplies were distributed to an estimated 20 million plus Russians.
Children affected by the Volga River famine. (Courtesy of ASHGR)
The following clip from "Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies" illustrates the amount of aid that was sent to Russia.
Click to view video!
Click to view video
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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