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Newly Discovered Color Movies Show Herbert Hoover’s Softer Side

From Hooverball to White House frolics, you’ve never seen the staid president quite like this

President Herbert Hoover (center right) plays a rousing game of Hooverball on the South Lawn of the White House. (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum)
smithsonian.com

“Rigid.” “Icy.” President Herbert Hoover is known for his dour personality and his failure to act decisively when the Great Depression swept the United States. But now newly discovered color home movies show a more relaxed man—one who appears a lot friendlier than you might think.

The footage was found in the archives of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum in West Branch, Iowa, where the 31st president is buried. Previous archivists apparently knew about the film, but weren’t aware that it was shot in Kodacolor, an early color film format introduced in 1928.

In a press statement provided to Smithsonian.com, the museum says that the extent of the home movies was only discovered after audiovisual archivist Lynn Smith obtained a grant to preserve and digitize the film. As The Washington Post’s Michael E. Ruane reports, Kodacolor looks like black-and-white film to the naked eye, so it makes sense that previous archivists would have overlooked it. A library official tells Ruane that the film is thought to be the earliest color footage of both the White House and Hoover.

So what does the film, which will be unveiled in its full length on March 29 at the library, show? Sit back, relax, and enjoy a preview of all seven reels:

A Colorful White House

Credit: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

Take a tour of the White House grounds with the help of Alonzo Fields, who served as the White House butler for 21 years and was later memorialized in the 2013 biopic The Butler. Fields shows off the White House grounds and gardens, which were carefully overseen by First Lady Lou Hoover. Keep an eye out for Lou, who makes an appearance in the film, along with her beloved dogs Weegie and Pat.

A Rousing Game of Hooverball

Credit: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

When Hoover came to the White House, he noticed that his waistline was expanding along with his presidential duties. He appealed to his private physician, who invented a rigorous game that the press dubbed "Hooverball." A combination of tennis and volleyball, the game was played with a medicine ball, and it became quite a phenomenon at the White House. The president’s closest advisers and friends gathered with him to play the game every morning on the South Lawn of the White House—earning them the moniker the “Medicine Ball Cabinet.” You can spot Hoover in the tan and brown jacket.

Easter Fun

Credit: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

The South Lawn wasn’t just a place for Hooverball—it’s also been the site of the Easter Egg Roll since the 1870s. Here, you can see the throngs who turned out for Easter at the White House in 1930. That year, girls from the YWCA did a maypole dance, but the First Lady did not attend due to a bad cold.

Sightseeing in the District

Credit: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

Even presidents and first ladies can marvel at the beauty of the capital. This footage shows the Washington Monument and a blimp—the era’s height of aeronautical progress—to boot. Unlike her husband, Lou Hoover was outgoing and vivacious, which explains her relaxed demeanor in this and other home movies.

Very Good Doggos

Credit: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

Dogs were important to the Hoovers, who played fetch with their family pets on the White House lawn. One of Hoover’s favorite dogs, a German Shepherd named King Tut, is not in this video, perhaps because he was banished to a quieter location when he began to age and became, in the words of the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum, “less interested in the attentions of White House visitors.”

A Great Catch

Credit: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

You might think of Hoover as uptight, but this home movie contradicts that reputation. Watch Hoover catch a barracuda while aboard a boat in Florida. Hoover went there with the Milbanks, philanthropists and close friends. The president was an avowed angler, once commenting that “There are only two occasions when Americans respect privacy, especially in Presidents. Those are prayer and fishing.”

Adorable Babies

Credit: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

This 1928 home movie shows the Hoovers’ grandchildren, Peggy Ann and Herbert “Pete” Hoover III, frolicking at the Hoovers’ hideaway in Palo Alto, California. It was the couple’s only permanent home, and when their son Herbert Jr. was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1930, the grandkids (including baby sister Joan) moved into the White House while their father recovered. The Hoovers doted on their grandkids, and so did the kids of America—in 1930, the children of Washington, D.C., delivered a Christmas message to them in adorable fashion. Peggy Ann was described by one newspaper as “the little girl of the land,” and the grandchildrens’ exploits were a favorite of reporters eager to humanize the Hoovers.

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