The Great Humanitarian
Herbert Hoover's Food Relief Efforts
Belgium & France - Finland - Germany & Austria - Poland - Russia - Baltic States - Eastern Europe - Other Countries
Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917, during the Russian Revolution. However, what ensued was civil war between Soviet-backed Communists and German-backed non-Communists. Eventually the non-Communists triumphed, but the country fell into famine due to years of war; a particularly bad harvest; an Allied blockade of much of Europe; and unfriendly relations with Russia, which was formerly the source of the bulk of their food imports.

Victory parade of German and Finnish troops at the end of the Finnish Revolution. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

 
 

The Finns appealed to Herbert Hoover, due to his success with food relief to Belgium. Hoover saw that the Finns were starving, many barely surviving on bread made with the bark of trees, and agreed to help. Hoover convinced the Swedes and the Danes to send supplies by guaranteeing that they would be repaid. Over the objections of the Allied blockade authorities, Hoover sent ships to Finland carrying the supplies from Sweden and Denmark, as well as coffee and fish which were donated by Norway. American citizens also donated money to feed the Finnish children.

In addition to supplying food to the general population, an organization was set up to feed children. In total, over 35 million free meals were given to Finnish children.

The following chart illustrates the amount of food sent to Finland by various countries:

United States................170,275

United Kingdom............3,467

Denmark........................10,000

Norway...........................4,442

Total...............................188,184

 
A cartoon critical of the Allied naval blockade which cut off supplies to a number of neutral countries. (Cartoon courtesy of Rutland High School)

 
Herbert Hoover in Finland (Photo courtesy of The Truman Presidential Library)

In 1939, Finland again found herself in need of aid. The Russians had invaded Finland in order to retake the land they had lost in 1917. As a result of Russian aggression, the Finns again faced famine due to war.

Herbert Hoover was called upon to organize the relief. He in turn called on the American people again to send aid to the ailing country, stating "America has a duty to do its part in the relief of the hideous suffering of the Finnish people."

A booklet appealing to Americans to donate to the Finnish Relief Fund
 

The American people responded generously to Hoover's appeals. Less than one month after he established Finnish Relief Fund, Inc., $400,000 in donations had come in from the American people.

By March 1940, just over four months after the Finnish Relief Fund was founded, more than $2.5 million had been raised to aid Finland.

For years, the Finnish used "hoover" to mean "to help" as a result of all that Hoover had done for the Finnish people.

   
Funds for the Finnish Relief Fund were raised in various ways including fundraising events such as tennis matches.
 
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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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