It was fortunate the nation’s largest construction project of the early 20th century, the Boulder Canyon Project, came to fruition when it did.
Congress had debated building a dam on the Colorado River for the better part of a decade when President Calvin Coolidge signed the Herculean project into law on December 21, 1928, just weeks after the election of Herbert Hoover as the nation’s 31st chief executive. Although the former mining executive served as Secretary of Commerce in the Cabinets of Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Hoover had little to do with the government’s authorization of the massive project. The task of implementing it was a prominent agenda item for his administration until Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. Barely six months into Hoover’s term, the nation’s stock market collapsed, closing thousands of businesses and plunging 15 million Americans into unemployment.
Though many now believe the construction of the dam was inspired to put Depression-era workers back on the job, it wasn’t until February 14, 1931, that Congress passed an appropriation of funds to build the dam.
Families living in decrepit shantytowns across the country (blithely called “Hoovervilles”) packed up and headed West for a job building Boulder Dam in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Work on the dam was underway when a rich governor from New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was elected president by a landslide in 1932. Just days after the election, on November 12, 1932, Hoover, now a lame duck president, visited Boulder City, garnering the boos of dam workers who blamed Hoover for their plight in the first place. Ironically, as the rest of the nation suffered in the throes of the Great Depression, the 5,000 workers building the dam enjoyed relative prosperity in comparison to the rest of America. Dedicated on September 30, 1935 as Boulder Dam by Roosevelt, it took an act of Congress a dozen years later to name the dam for Hoover. On April 30, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 43, “that the name of Hoover Dam is hereby restored to the dam on the Colorado River in Black Canyon constructed under the authority of the Boulder Canyon Project Act.”
Whatever the dam’s name was, its workers braved temperatures that often soared above 120 degrees in the shade while working for a day’s wage of $4. Officially, 96 people died building the dam, though none are actually buried in the dam, despite an urban legend to the contrary. And what a dam they bravely built- consider these profound statistics:
- At 726 feet tall, Hoover Dam is 171 feet taller than the Washington Monument.
- At its base, Hoover Dam is as thick (660 ft.) as two football fields measured end-to-end.
- There’s enough concrete in the dam to build a four-foot-wide sidewalk around the Earth at the Equator.
- During peak electricity periods, enough water runs through the dam’s generators to fill 15 average-sized swimming pools (20,000 gallons each) in three seconds.