A hundred years ago, the forces of war were relentlessly at work in Europe, but few other than heads of state and diplomats knew that the continent was about to erupt into conflict. Tens of thousands of Americans were in Europe, and the outbreak of hostilities caught them by surprise.
This article from the Liberal (Kansas) Democrat of August 14, 1914, reports the plight of those Americans who found themselves in Europe. Most found themselves stranded, food was scarce, and a great number of them found themselves penniless. One woman with two children, for example, was reported to be stranded in Prussia without cash but holding $2500 in checks.
The self-made millionaire mining engineer Herbert Hoover would later relate that this was the time that he ceased to be a private citizen. He became renowned for his relief efforts for Belgium, and later for the rest of Europe. And he began by assisting stranded Americans in London. The paper reports:
Herbert C. Hoover, a Californian, opened an office today in the American consulate and advanced amounts of $25 and upward to persons unable to get money by other means. Altogether Mr. Hoover gave assistance to 300 Americans who were absolutely without cash and announced that he would continue to aid them as long as his currency lasted.
As author Vernon Kellog later described this venture:
He gathered together all his available money and that of American friends and opened a unique bank which had no depositors and took in no money, but continuously gave it out against personal checks signed by unknown but American-looking people on unknown banks in Walla Walla and Fresno and Grand Rapids and Dubuque and Emporia and New Bedford. And he found rooms in hotels and passage on steamers, first-class, second-class or steerage, as happened to be possible. Now on all these checks and promises to pay, just $250 failed to be realized by the man who took a risk on American honesty to the extent of several hundred thousand dollars.
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