20. Secretary of Commerce

1927, The Secretaries of Commerce (Herbert Hoover, far right) and Agriculture (William Jardine, second from left) inspect a model home sponsored by the Better Homes Association.

Before Herbert Hoover was appointed Secretary of Commerce in 1921, the department functioned only to "turn on the lighthouses at night and put the fish to bed." After President Harding promised Hoover a voice in economic policy, Hoover turned the Commerce Department into the most dynamic agency in Washington.

New divisions were created for Housing, Radio, and Aeronautics. The Railway Labor Mediation Board was established. The Fisheries Bureau saved Alaska's salmon at a meeting of fishermen. Oilmen convened to save Chesapeake Bay. A series of public conferences and private groups educated decision-makers, inspired legislation or promoted grassroots cooperation. The Census Bureau was expanded into an informational treasure trove for business planners. And Hoover raised more than a million dollars to further scientific research.

Safety became an important issue. Airport runways were fitted with landing lights and radio beams, and Washington’s first airfield was given Hoover's name. The National Conference on Street and Highway Safety was convened after 20,000 people died in auto accidents the previous year. The nation's first uniform highway safety code was written after a friend of Hoover's obeyed Washington, D.C. traffic regulations, yet was cited for 24 violations en-route to New York.