The Hoover Dam is an American wonder. The men and women that played a part in its creation defied the odds to build the largest concrete structure of their time. All in the effort of western America’s continued survival.
Before the Hoover Dam, the Colorado River basin states used the river by way of Canals. Heavy snowfall melting in the Rockies in 1905 caused those canals to burst. Water flooded the lands wiping out fields across the basin states. Other states suffered severe water shortages. In 1918, Author Powell Davis the Chief Engineer and Director of the Reclamation Service, proposed a dam be built in Boulder Canyon. This proposal would benefit the seven Colorado River Basin states; Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California. The Colorado River demonstrated it’s destructive powers when it flooded a once dried lake bed resulting in the Salton Sea. Controlling a river with such force had yet to be done, but also building a Dam of such size and complexity made this proposal seem impossible.
The Dam Construction
The US Government felt the rewards for such an undertaking outweighed the risks. In 1922 the initial plans for the Boulder Canyon Project were first drafted. With the great depression crippling the economy, men from across the US moved west in the hopes of finding stable work. These eager men even went as far as camping outside of the future construction site creating the unofficial city “Ragtown”. The federal government established Boulder City in 1931 with proper housing facilities for the workers and their families.
The Hoover Dams construction was too much for one company alone to handle. Six companies pooled their resources forming Six Companies Inc. Congress awarded them the Boulder Canyon Project in February 1931. Re-routing of the river started not long after Six Companies received the project. In November 1932, the fierce Colorado River was moved from its million-year-old home and channeled around the Boulder Canyon site.
The Hoover Dam construction took 21,000 contributors, 5 years of labor, 6.6 million tons of concrete, 96 lives lost and an estimated price of 49 million dollars. Equal to 860 million by today’s standards.
The once wild Colorado River now lays domesticated behind a 726-foot manmade mountain. The 17 turbines of the Hoover Dam provide power for 1.3 million people. Seven miles from the Hoover Dam is Lake Mead, which started filling in 1934. Within a year the Lake filled over 700 feet. Lake Mead hit its max capacity of 1225 feet above sea level in 1983. Currently, the lake sits at 1095 feet. The lake provides water for over 25 million people and is the largest manmade lake. A close second is Lake Powell located in the upper portion of the Great Basins.
Lake Powell got its name after the explorer John Wesley Powell. Wesley-Powell commanded an expedition down the dangerously unknown Colorado River in 1867. The U.S Government funded Wesley-Powell for a second voyage in 1869. The truly fascinating part is John Wesley Powell did all this with one arm, after losing his right arm in the Civil War. Wesley-Powell’s scientific research from his expeditions laid the groundwork for his nephew Arthur Powell Davis who proposed the Hoover Dam in 1918.
The Future of Lake Mead
For nearly 20 years The Colorado River Basins states feared a water shortage. After a heavy snowfall in the Rockies melted in 2015 it replenished the lakes depleting resources putting an end to the drought. The Basin states signed a new agreement in 2019 outlining future water usage.
Winged Figures of the Republic
To signify the completion of this great accomplishment is the Winged Figures of the Republic by artist Oskar J.W Hansen. Hansen wanted sculptures that expressed his thoughts of the Hoover Dam and its place in our history. “The immutable calm of intellectual resolution, and the enormous power of trained physical strength, equally enthroned in placid triumph of scientific accomplishment.” –Oskar J.W. Hanson. Covering the ground beneath the winged figures is a star chart. Mapping the stars on the day President Rosevelt dedicated the dam to his predecessor President Hoover, September 30th, 1935.