Building the Hoover Dam — 1931-1936
Construction of the Hoover Dam began in early 1931. The project took five years to complete and cost the lives of 112 men.
There were three valid bids submitted for construction of the dam. A joint venture consortium comprised of several organizations named Six Companies, Inc. submitted a bid of $48,890,955. This turned out to be the lowest bid, by nearly $5 million, and was within $24,000 of the confidential government estimate for the final cost of the project. Six Companies, Inc. was awarded the contract to build the Hoover Dam.
In the first part of the 20th century, southwestern expansion of the United States created a high demand for both electricity and water. During this same time period, the Colorado River experienced a series of devastating floods. This created the perfect scenario for authorization of a hydroelectric dam to be built on the Colorado.
Although the dam would take only five years to complete, the project technically took nearly 30 years from start to finish. An engineer from the Bureau of Reclamation, Arthur Powell Davis, envisioned the dam in 1902 and created an engineering report at that time. Davis’s report would become the guiding document for creation of the dam when plans were finalized in 1922.
Some 21,000 men worked to build the Hoover Dam over those five years, with 5,251 men officially employed simultaneously at the peak of the project. The Great Depression was in full swing and tens of thousands of potential workers flocked to the construction site. Entire families camped out at the Hoover Dam construction site in temperatures of 120+ degrees Fahrenheit.
31st president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, was a crucial part of bringing Davis’s original plans for the dam to reality. Hoover was a dedicated conservationist and became devoted to having a mighty dam build in Boulder Canyon, Colorado. In addition to the much needed thousands of jobs the project would provide, it also meant a solution to the much needed flood control for the Colorado River and would provide a dependable water and electricity supply for the western half of the United States, Los Angeles and other southern California communities in particular.
Although the Hoover Dam project had backing from the president of the United States and regional consensus that it was needed, Congressional approval and individual state agreement took quite some time to obtain. The delay was caused by an argument around water rights among the western states and claims on the Colorado River. To ratify these concerns, President Hoover negotiated the Colorado River Compact, dividing the water into two distinct regions. Once this agreement was reached between the states, Hoover then had to seek approval from the House and Senate. This required several bills to be introduced over the course of a few years before approval was finally granted in 1928.
President Hoover, in 1929, signed the Colorado River Compact into law, stating it was “the most extensive action ever taken by a group of states under the provisions of the Constitution permitting compacts between states.”
With the paperwork squared away and the project finally underway, the massive construction project, which was the largest dam of its time and one of the largest manmade structures in the world, sped along very quickly. Contractors finished work two years ahead of schedule and millions of dollars under budget.
Today, the Hoover Dam is the 2nd largest dam in the United States and 18th tallest globally. The hydroelectric dam serves more than 1.3 million people in cities throughout California, Nevada and Arizona. As Hoover Dam artist Oskar Hansen stated, it stands as “a monument to collective genius exerting itself in community efforts around a common need or ideal.”
(Images: Corbis/ Getty Images, via Mashable)
Interesting Hoover Dam Fact:
There is a rumor that bodies are entombed within the walls of the dam. While this is an untrue myth, there is one very strange coincidence pertaining to the 112 men who lost their lives during construction of the Hoover Dam. The first unfortunate person to be killed working on the project was a surveyor named J. G. Tierney. Mr. Tierney drowned while searching for a spot for the dam on December 20, 1922. The 112th and final worker to die during construction of the Hoover Dam lost his life 13 years later on the exact day – December 20, 1935 – and he was none other than J. G. Tierney’s son, Patrick Tierney.
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