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THE GREAT ENGINEER Herbert Hoover as Secret

In Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, business had an understanding friend at court. He decided at once to make a governmental attack on waste in business, and marshaled effectively the resources of the Bureau of Standards and the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce to this end ... There can be no doubt that Hoover and his lieutenants made many valuable contributions to the efficiency of American business (Hicks, 1960, p. 67).

Implicit in this approach to the department's work was a close relationship to the industries it dealt with. It is well known that regulatory agencies often tend to be "captured" by the industries that they regulate. Hoover's concept of managerial efficiency tended to accentuate this tendency, since it was in industry that the government could find the requisite technical expertise. In the words of a contemporary business analyst, each division of the Department, tasked with regulating a particular industrial commodity, was "headed by an expert nominated -- in some cases actually voted on -- by the trade he knows and represents" (Brandes, 1962, p. 5). In Hoover's view this was less a "capture" than a natural partnership between government and industry.

He took particular interest in what, by the standards of the time, were the high-tech sectors of the economy. He energetically promoted commercial aviation, establishing beacons and other air-route markers, and lobbying for the assignment of airmail contracts to the nascent commercial airlines (Hicks, 1960, pp. 176-77). Hoover also took an interest in radio, the Internet of the 1920s. ("Radio Flyer" brand children's wagons still echo the excitement that radio produced in the 1920s.) Radio technology had emerged in experimental form at the turn of the century, and had been applied to a limited degree for military purposes (as for communication between ships at sea) during World War I. By the 1920s it was just coming into its own as a w...

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