Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam
Panoramic view of Hoover Dam in 2011
Photo by: Kuczora Creative Commons

Anyone who has ever been to the Hoover Dam which straddles the Black Canyon in Nevada and Arizona is immediately awestruck by what modern engineering has been capable of accomplishing. It is an imposing construct that exudes an inspiring sense of power. More than 100 workers died over the five years it took to complete this anti-arch dam which stops up the power of the Colorado River. It is named after President Herbert Hoover and was completed in 1936.

Multi Purpose

The Hoover Dam was built to provide hydroelectric power, supply irrigation for agriculture, and control floods. This supremely ambitious project was initiated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1928, but then faced years of extremely bitter controversy – not everyone liked the idea of a project that was viewed as expensive, would not be beneficial to all, and which posed potential dangers. The political fight to move the Hoover Dam forward was bitter and contentious, sparking feuds between the governments of surrounding states, and uncounted lawsuits.

The Great Depression

But construction finally began in 1931 and was completed in 1935. One of the factors that helped the project along was the coming of the Great Depression after the U.S. Stock market crashed in 1929. The Hoover Dam was the ultimate government infrastructure project providing thousands of jobs in a country that was reeling from massive unemployment. By 1934, the labor force working on the dam was more than 5,400 people.


Design of the Hoover Dam fell to the brilliant civil engineer John Savage, a master dam builder of the modern world. The work itself was awarded to a consortium of construction entities which came to be known as the Six Companies, Inc.

More than 3.2 million cubic yards of concrete were used to build Hoover Dam plus another 1.1 million in the supporting power plant. That’s enough concrete to lay a two-lane highway from San Francisco to New York! Interspersed within the concrete are 582 miles of cooling pipes. The maximum power generation capability of the dam is 2080 megawatts of electricity per year. More than 50% of that power goes to California, 23% goes to Nevada and about 19% to Arizona.

Attraction or Hazard?

The Hoover Dam is a major tourist attraction with more than one million visitors per year.

There were environmental impacts resulting from the construction of the Hoover Dam. Several species of fish that live downstream are now listed as endangered, and the dam is blamed for the decline of the estuarine ecosystem of the Colorado River.

Naming the Dam

The Hoover Dam has always been controversial including its name. It was originally called Boulder Dam, but was changed to Hoover Dam. President Hoover himself was an engineer who is said to have been a great proponent of dams as a source of economic development.

It took a long time, however for the “powers that be” to accept Hoover’s name being attached to the dam – Hoover was considered an ineffectual President, and many blamed him for the coming of the Great Depression. For years, the dam was called Boulder Dam and Hoover Dam interchangeably.

Whatever the case, Hoover Dam is a marvel of engineering, and remains today one of America’s ultimate symbols of technological power and progress.

7 Wonders of the Industrial World

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