Hendrik Willem van Loon was a prolific Dutch American author, historian and illustrator. During his early professional years, van Loon also was an Associated Press news correspondent reporting from Russia on the Russian Revolution in 1905, and on the First World War, reporting from Belgium, during its early stages in 1914. Van Loon also dipped his toes in academia for a brief period of time, from 1915 to 1917, when he was a lecturer in history at Cornell University, his alma mater. Several years later, from 1921 to 1922, van Loon served as the Department Head of Social Sciences at Antioch College, Ohio.
Hendrik van Loon was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands on January 14, 1882. His parents were Hendrik Willem van Loon and Elisabeth Johanna Hanken. In 1902, he managed to travel to the United States to study at Cornell University. He was either very resourceful, or was supported by his parents, to be able to get admitted and to pay the tuition for a private university education in the United States. Van Loon earned his bachelor degree in 1905, the same year in which he became a news correspondent for the Associated Press in Russia, reporting on the Russian Revolution.
A year following graduation from Cornell, in 1906, van Loon married Eliza Ingersoll Bowditch, a daughter of a Harvard physiology professor. The couple subsequently had two sons, Henry Bowditch van Loon and Gerard Willem van Loon.
Several years following graduation from Cornell, van Loon, with his family moved to Munich, Germany, where he planned to study for his doctorate at the University of Munich. His doctoral studies were successful and, in 1911, van Loon was awarded the Ph. D. degree. His dissertation was entitled, “The Fall of the Dutch Republic”. He was able to publish his dissertation as a book with the same title, in 1913. Following graduation from the University of Munich, van Loon returned to the United States, and went to work again as a correspondent for the Associated Press in Europe.
In the interim, van Loon’s marital life apparently ran into a few road bumps, and van Loon, and his wife, Eliza Ingersoll Bowditch, decided to divorce. Van Loon, in 1920, got married again, but this time to Eliza Helen Criswell. Van Loon’s second marriage to Crisswell apparently also did not last, because, in 1927, van Loon married the playwright Frances Goodrich Ames.
After three different wives, one would expect that van Loon would be ready to settle down. But that was not the case. Van Loon divorced Frances Goodwin Ames, and then returned to Eliza Helen Crisswell, his second wife, with whom he apparently lived the remainder of his life. When he passed away, in 1944, it was Crisswell who inherited his estate.
Van Loon began his book authoring career in 1910, and continued his prolific career as an author until the end of his life in 1944. Van Loon also did the illustrations in his books himself. Van Loon’s best known book is entitled, “The Story of Mankind”, a history of the world targeted at a junior audience, mainly children. For that book van Loon was awarded the Newberry Medal in 1922. The book remained popular, and was updated by van Loon during his life, and later by his son, and still later by other historians.
Van Loon’s target audience for his books was the younger adult. He was apparently successful because he was able to make turgid historical material come to life for the reader. Van Loon emphasized crucial historical events, and made the historical characters, in his stories, come to life for the reader.
Van Loon’s first three books carried a Dutch historical theme. His first book, published in 1913 was entitled, “The Fall of the Dutch Republic” [see above], and was published by Houghton Mifflin Company. His second book, published in 1915, was entitled, “The Rise of the Dutch Kingdom”. It was published by Doubleday Page and Company. His third book, published in 1916, was entitled, “The Golden Book of the Dutch Navigators”. It was published by The Century Company.
Following his three Dutch history oriented books van Loon wrote a series of books on general, but mostly historical, topics. Many of van Loon’s book titles had the word “Story” in them. And it appears that van Loon saw himself as a story teller. The “Story of Mankind”, of course also fell in this category.
Van Loon’s books continued rolling off the presses for virtually his entire writing career. He published about 40 books, and kept up his writing output until the end of his life. Even after his death, material found in his estate produced another two publications. The last one, published in 1947, was his autobiography, and was entitled, “Report to Saint Peter”.
Van Loon was a prolific author, and he contributed to society in other ways. During the Second World War, van Loon was active in assisting European refugees, and was used as a radio personality to broadcast speeches to the Netherlands during the war. His radio name was “Oom Henk”, translated as Uncle Hank. For his contributions during the war, Queen Wilhelmina, the Dutch queen, knighted him in 1942. Van Loon was apparently also on friendly terms with the Roosevelts, both Franklin and Eleanor. There is not much information available on the specifics of that relationship.
Unfortunately, van Loon was not blessed with a long life. He passed away shortly following his sixty second birthday, on March 11, 1944. But following his death, he was not forgotten. Two biographical books, published after his death, covered his life story. They were “Van Loon: Popular Historian, Journalist, and FDR Confidant”, by Cornelis van Minnen and published by Palgrave McMillan in 2005. The second book was entitled, “The Story of Hendrik Willem van Loon”. It was written by van Loon’s son, Gerard Willem van Loon, and published by Lippincott in 1972.
Hendrik Willem van Loon will be fondly remembered as the story teller he was during his life time.
Hendrik Willem van Loon, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hendrik_Willem_van_Loon
Hendrik Willem van Loon, http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/articles/hendrikwillemvanloon.html (link no longer active)
E-BOOKS AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON; GOOGLE: Kindle Store Pegels
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS, CURRENT AND HISTORIC
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FIFTEEN PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE VAN BURENS, KOCH BROTHERS, VOORHEES AND OTHERS, 2015
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS IN U.S. GOVERNMENT LEADERSHIP POSITIONS, 2015
DUTCH PEGELS INVOLVED IN WARS
ALLIED EUROPE CAMPAIGN—1944/1945: TACTICAL MISTAKES, 2017
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE NETHERLANDS: MEMOIRS, 2017
FRENCH REVOLUTION, NAPOLEON AND RUSSIAN WAR OF 1812, 2015