For $1,933 you could buy three cars that year or one Hoover vacuum cleaner for $19.33. But that wouldn’t be enough to clean up the dust bowl. Or as they say in the United Kingdom, to Hoover the dust. It says a lot about a noun that becomes a verb particularly when the noun is a brand name.
Here in the U.S. we never took up the verb. Maybe because we already had too many Hoovers. Herbert, the out-going president, had a popularity close to zero. He won just six states in the 1932 election. A dozen Hoover vacuums couldn’t suck up the landslide.
The vacuum cleaner was invented by a department store janitor named Spangler in 1908. He passed it on to his cousin, Susan Hoover and the rest is history.
Nor could Hoover, the vacuum, clean up the mess in the wake of J. Edgar Hoover. By 1933 he was already nine years into his tenure as head of the F.B.I. He had a remarkable nose for sniffing out bootleggers, anarchists, agitators (especially from the left) along with civil rights leaders. But his olfactory sense was clogged when it came to proto-fascists in the decade of the Depression. Hoover reigned for 48 years through the terms of eight presidents. By 1960 the F.B.I had files on 432,000 Americans. In 1950 I attended some Marxist classes filled mostly by FBI agent reporting on each other. It didn’t hurt that he not only procured the negatives of films from all their office parties but kept enough wire-taps and surveillance tapes to scare the bejejus out of everyone in Washington.
1933 was the worst of times and the wurst of times. Breadlines here and sausage (wurst) in Germany. Hitler assumed power that year being mistaken by the German people as the worker’s friend in ways that have resonance today. He posed as the messiah leading them to the Promised Land which turned out to be Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland and he Hoovered the rest of Europe ending up making sausage of civilization.
It was also the year of my birth so I’m taking credit for FDR as well as the chocolate chip cookie, drive-in movies and the board game, Monopoly. But the signs of things to come were also in the tea leaves with King Kong and the song, Stormy Weather.
The lesson from all this is murky. Is there a pendulum swinging from Hitler to FDR, menace to salvation? It seems we proceed on two tracks at once revealing our most loathsome and noblest intent. Perhaps our dangerous folly at the polls will wake up the slumbering masses. This new Age of Trump is already seeding its own destruction with reckless Tweets and cabinet appointments who have been salivating for many years to bring us back to pre-Roosevelt America.
In the King Kong movie we see the beast climbing the tallest building in NYC, pounding his chest and going on a rampage. Sound familiar? He is brought down by the beauty, Fay Wray. If Beauty and Truth are one our country is littered with smears, fibs and fake news. The Hoover called Truth is always at the ready to vacuum away the debris.