Hoover Dam

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Description

It's an engineering marvel that provides a variety of benefits to Arizona and other western states. But in the 1920's and 1930's some of Arizona 's most powerful leaders tried to stop the federal government from building what is now Hoover Dam.

Transcript

Man:
Pretty far, huh? Pretty impressive, huh? You're not scared, are you? You're a big boy. Look at that. That's a lot of cement, huh?

Dennis McBride:
People come from all over the world and look at it and wonder how in -- how on Earth anybody could have built something like that, could have made something like that in one of the most desolate corners of the Earth.

Narrator:
The Mojave Desert, where the Colorado River carves the canyon between Arizona and Nevada , is where you'll find Hoover Dam It's an engineering masterpiece, a 726-foot monument to the ingenuity of man.

Bill Schermerhorn:
We're still the tallest concrete dam in the entire western hemisphere. When you see the actual size the mammoth size of it, 6 million tons of concrete put in one spot -- nobody had ever put that much of any masonry material in one spot in the history of the world when this was built, so it's really awe-inspiring.

Narrator:
The dam had to be huge; wide enough to stretch wall to wall across Black Canyon , strong enough to overpower the mighty Colorado .

Bill Schermerhorn:
The main reason the Hoover Dam was built was for flood control. We're here because of the 1905 through 1906 flood into southern California , specifically the Imperial Valley .

Narrator:
The Imperial Valley is where the U.S. grows much of its food. To keep those crops from washing away, something had to be done about the floods. That something was the Boulder Canyon Project. It was approved by Congress in 1928. The federal government hired Six Companies, Inc., as its contractor, and construction started on what was then called Boulder Dam in 1931.

Bill Schermerhorn:
It put a lot of people to work. We had over 16,000 employees on this project during the middle of the Great Depression, so it did definitely put a lot of people to work.

Narrator:
Many of the workers lived in a city built especially for them, Boulder City , Nevada , about seven miles from the dam site. For the Bureau of Reclamation, building the dam required answering a question.

Bill Schermerhorn:
How do you build a dam in the middle of a raging river? And of course, the answer is you don't. So what they had to do was physically divert the river, and in a lot of cases you would build canals, but if you look around us at these thousand-foot canyon walls, that wasn't going to happen. So instead, they made tunnels called diversion tunnels, four of them. They're 4,000 feet long each, blasted out originally at 56 feet high, then lined on the interior with three feet of concrete.

Narrator:
Upstream from the dam site, a wall of earth and rock 700 feet thick was built to divert the river into the tunnels. Downstream, a smaller barrier kept water from backing up on the workers. Between these two cofferdams was a made-to-order construction site.

Bill Schermerhorn:
Now you had a half-mile. Drain out the water, dig 135 feet down through the mud and the silt, find your schist, or your bedrock, start building your dam.

Narrator:
It was the start of what decades earlier had been suggested by the likes of Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell and other visionaries, including a Kingman, Arizona newspaperman by the name of Anson Smith, who published the Mojave County Miner .

Dennis McBride:
He just saw the need for more water in this area. This is desert country, you know, and so he had some very good reasons to pursue this.

Narrator:
Smith used his newspaper to promote the benefits of building a dam on the Colorado River . As a show of gratitude, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover once called Smith "the Father of Boulder Dam." It's a title that some other Arizonans would rather not have.

Loren Wilson:
Arizona actually was never, never happy with the Boulder Canyon Project. I mean, they fought it right into the Supreme Court on a number of occasions, and I guess it started back with the Colorado River Compact when they were first deciding how they were going to divide up the river and the water allotments. And Arizona was never really happy with what it got.

Narrator:
Of the seven states included in the Colorado River Compact, Arizona was the only one that refused to ratify it by the time the Bureau of Reclamation started building Boulder Dam. By 1928, the writing was on the wall:
Boulder Dam would be built whether Arizona liked it or not. After a couple of years spent preparing the site, the first enormous bucket of concrete was poured into a form at the base of the dam on June 6, 1933. The last bucket was poured less than two years later.

Bill Schermerhorn:
It was actually built ahead of schedule, and that's mostly due to the workings of Six Companies, Inc. The senior man on the project was a gentleman by the name of Frank Crowe. His middle name, they said, was "hurry up," and he really pushed these guys to get this thing done.

Narrator:
The dam was built in under five years and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in September of 1935. He and others continued to call it Boulder Dam even though the name had been changed to Hoover Dam several years earlier. In 1947, an act of Congress made it official:
the dam would honor former President Herbert Hoover, who earlier in his career brokered a landmark agreement on the Colorado River Compact. By the way, Arizona did finally ratify that compact, but not until 1944. Meanwhile, Anson Smith, the Newspaperman from Mojave County , watched as the dam was built, but he didn't live to see it completed. In 1976, a memorial in his honor was placed overlooking Hoover Dam from the Arizona side of the Colorado River . More than a million people pass by it each year as they visit Hoover Dam or travel to Lake Mead that forms behind it. Recreation, flood control, water, and power:
the many benefits of what truly is one of the great wonders of the west.