“That fire was moving so fast,” recalls Hoover. “All of a sudden it got black outside, and sparks started flying by. Then I heard the propane go, and I lost water pressure. That’s when I knew it was time to leave.”
For Hoover, the March 2012 wildfire claimed more than his 12-year-old retirement home, which stood in the foothills about 30 miles southwest of Denver. It also destroyed a veritable museum of irreplaceable national treasures belonging to his grandfather, President Herbert Hoover.
But in his haste to leave, Andy Hoover was able to salvage two items: a Ming vase his grandfather purchased in China in the late 1800s, and a priceless 16th century copy of the classic ‘De Re Metallica,’ the same copy Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, used in 1912 while working on the first translation of the work into English.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Andy made a point of rescuing mining’s oldest text from the flames. Of the 31st president’s six grandchildren, he’s the only one to go into mining, the industry that brought the Hoover family to national prominence.
Born in 1940, long after his grandfather’s retirement to private life, Andy grew up in and around the industry. “Mining families do the same thing from generation to generation,” Andy says. “You know how they work.”
It was Herbert Hoover himself who advised his grandson to attend Mines, which is ironic, insofar as Herbert’s brother, Theodore, was the founding dean of Stanford University’s engineering school and later the head of its metallurgy department.
“Granddad advised me to go to Mines for two reasons,” says Andy. “First, he knew the reputation of the school. Second, he’d visited the campus and was acquainted with some of the faculty.” Perhaps he also was grateful for the honorary degree Mines had awarded him in 1935.
The president’s visit to Mines for the May 1935 graduation ceremony was a major event, swelling the crowd to overflow proportions. In accepting his honorary degree, Herbert Hoover bestowed high praise on the many Mines graduates he’d worked with over the years.
President Hoover died in 1964, just before Andy arrived at Mines after spending two years in the army. Andy studied under now-legendary faculty members such as Wendell Fertig and George Bator while pursuing his degree in mining engineering. He never regretted taking his grandfather’s advice.
“The main thing about Mines was that you got your hands dirty,” says Andy. “We got out there and did real work. The experimental mine was terribly valuable. The idea was you would be productive from the first day on the job. I also remember a metallurgy professor who allowed us to come in on the weekends, fire up the furnace and cast things. We learned by doing.”
That spirit continued after graduation, as Andy set out to gain on-the-job training in far-off places. His mining odyssey took him from Colorado to California and, eventually, to the remote mountains of Pakistan.
“I was trying to work in enough places to get a body of knowledge I could build on,” he says. Eventually he launched his own exploration firm before winding up as a mine engineering consultant with John T. Boyd Co., where he specialized in coal.
When he retired from the industry, he took over management of the family’s farm in California. Along the way, he began to gather and curate bits and pieces of his historic family’s legacy.
By the mid-1990s, he’d amassed a large number of artifacts from his parents, some of which were earmarked to go to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. The collection, almost all of which perished in the fire, included President Hoover’s smoking pipe, his White House china, antique firearms, a well-stocked wine cellar that included two bottles of 1808 Napoleon brandy, antique furnishings and hundreds of books from the president’s library.
While it’s clearly a painful memory, Andy bears the loss stoically, maintaining that his grandfather’s legacy is better preserved by ideas than by things. Perhaps that’s why, out of all the items he might have grabbed on his way out the door, he made certain to take ‘De Re Metallica.’