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THE GREAT ENGINEER Herbert Hoover as Secret

He would hold that position for eight years, through the boom of the 1920s, before finally succeeding to the White House when the economy was on the verge of collapse. The remainder of this discussion will focus on his role as Secretary of Commerce during those years.

Hoover, an engineer by background, was in modern terms, something of a technocrat, who believed that not only the performance of industry but social progress could best be furthered by rational methods of management and a problem-solving approach to issues. ("Technocracy," a term popularized in this same era, had originally a more specific but related meaning of government by technical experts.) This was an outlook much in vogue in the 1920s. As businesses grew in size, traditional methods of management -- derived from customary practices in the workshops and small factories of an earlier time -- were giving way to the professional concept of management that we now take for granted. Whereas even large companies had formerly been essentially family firms scaled up, corporations were increasingly private bureaucracies, with elaborate tables of organization and, standardized management hiring and promotion practices in place of dependence on personal relationships.

All of these tendencies were accelerated by the experience of World War I, when rationalized systems introduced for the war emergency had achieved astonishing feats of organization an


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