Hoover Dam construction commences

This Day in History

On this day in history, July 7, 1931, the Hoover Dam, the largest dam of its time and one of the largest manmade structures ever, began construction after a near 30 years of forethought and planning. 

Following the close of the Industrial Revolution and the beginning of a new century, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found itself tasked with finding a way of reigning in the raging rapids of the Colorado River. The cantankerous river loomed as a continual threat to nearby farming communities. 

Bureau director Arthur Powell Davis first thought of a vision for the dam all the way back to 1902. Finally, in 1922, his conception was dubbed the Boulder Canyon Project. 

A plan outline was submitted to Congress depicted as a multipurpose dam that would manage both flooding and irrigation, along with the creation and sale of hydroelectric power to compensate for its ongoing upkeep.  

On top of that, it would allow for a reliable water supply for the city of Los Angeles and other neighboring communities. 

Legal and political issues arose in the midst of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover negotiating the 1922 Colorado River Compact in order to properly divide water drainage among seven states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, California).

The controversy ended however in 1928, after President Calvin Coolidge authorized the Boulder Canyon Project.  

Following Hoover’s election, it was announced by the Secretary of Interior, Ray L. Wilbur, that the final product would be named the Hoover Dam in honor of its greatest champion. 

The official name was not put in place until 1947.

Graphite by Ellen Adams

As construction on the dam began on this day in 1931, the Great Depression reared its ugly head and prompted thousands of wishful laborers to move to Las Vegas and settle encampments in the nearby desert.

Almost immediately, a six-day strike ensued after hazardous working conditions involving the creation of tunnels for water diversion were revealed. Despite these difficulties, a year later, the river’s path was successfully redirected. 

Next, a clearing had to be made for the walls that would contain the dam. High scalers had to be used in order to complete the task, and over 100 workers died from falling, rocks, equipment, and overall threatening environments. 

With a now-dry riverbed, construction on the actual powerplant began. To offset heat made by cooling concrete, water circulation had to be created in the poured blocks, and close to 600 miles of pipe loops had to be embedded  as well – that’s almost the distance from Atlanta to Washington DC! 

Over the next few years, close to 21,000 workers collaborated in working continually through the Great Depression and topped off the last concrete block at a record breaking height of 726 feet in 1935. 

On September 30, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt commemorated the colossal structure’s finish in front of an audience of 20,000 people. 

Finally, on March 1, 1936, Six Companies (the consortium which undertook the construction) turned the Hoover Dam over to the federal government, prompting the official opening of the dam.

Even now, over eight decades after its completion, it is a marvel to behold.

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