The Hoover Dam was completed in 1936. It had three purposes: to prevent flooding, to provide irrigation and drinking water, and to produce hydroelectric power.
- For years, settlers in the Southwest had tried to harness the Colorado River’s power. The Alamo Canal, built in 1890, was one such effort that ultimately failed.
- Construction began on the Hoover Dam during the Great Depression, in 1931. Thousands of men, anxious for work, poured into Las Vegas. More than 21,000 men were eventually hired.
- As part of the work contract, Boulder City was built nearby to house the workers.
However, before the city was built, men and their families lived in squatters’ camps like McKeeversville and Williamsville, which was more commonly known as Ragtown.
- The dam was a massive project that required workers to blast rock from the , divert water through pipes, and lay down thousands of pounds of concrete.
- Workers dangled 800 feet high in the air as they worked on removing rock from the canyon. Other workers suffered in tunnels that were 140 degrees and choked with gasoline fumes.
- 112 men lost their lives during the building of the Hoover Dam. Most of these were the result of drowning or falling. An additional 42 workers died of “pneumonia,” which was probably actually carbon monoxide poisoning from vehicles in tunnels. By classifying the deaths as pneumonia, the company didn’t have to pay any damages to the men’s families.
- Conditions were difficult and the men complained. These men were fired and replaced by others.
- Because jobs were so scarce during the Great Depression, the men were willing to work in difficult and hazardous conditions. Interestingly, though, no Chinese workers could be hired according to the contract. Only 30 African Americans worked on the job site. These were segregated and had to drink out of a separate drinking pail.
- The dam was dedicated by Franklin D. Roosevelt and later named after President Herbert Hoover.
- It has 45 million pounds of reinforced steel and is 660 feet thick at the base. From the river to the top of the dam is 726 feet—as tall as a 60-story building. The width of the dam is as much as two football fields.
- Water from the Hoover Dam can irrigate 2 million acres and opened up development for Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Las Angeles. Previously, water shortages would have limited these cities’ growth. The dam’s power plant produces enough electricity for 1.3 million people.
- Hydroelectric: electricity produced by water power
- Pneumonia: a disease of the lungs
Questions and Answers
Question: Were there any downsides to building the dam?
Answer: Many people opposed the building of the Hoover Dam. It destroyed river ecosystems for miles and miles, as well as areas sacred to native people. Additionally, conservationists question whether building huge cities in a desert is a good idea or a necessary thing. They believe the cities’ rapid growth is unsustainable and eventually water will run out.
Visit the official website for the Hoover Dam.