On September 30th of 1935, never minding the stifling heat, a crowd of roughly 20,000 people watched President Franklin D. Roosevelt commemorate the completion of Boulder Dam (now known as the Hoover Dam).
The Hoover Dam is a stunning wonder of engineering, art, and architecture, built during the Great Depression. It is located in Black Canyon, at the border of Arizona and Nevada. The Hoover Dam was designed to divert water from the Colorado River to the developing southwest (Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California), in order to water crops and to provide hydroelectric power. The dam stores enough water in Lake Mead to irrigate two million acres, and to supply electrical power to 1.3 million homes. The idea was to sell the electricity to pay for the dam.
The Hoover Dam has fueled the development of major cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas. On the down side, changes in the water flow caused by building the Hoover Dam have led to changes in the environment. For example, the dam building had a great impact on the Colorado River Delta. The river had experienced natural flooding before the dam was built, and there were species of both plants and animals that were adapted to this flooding. Now many of these species are endangered.
The dam is also a popular tourist attraction. These days, the Hoover Dam and the associated Lake Mead see millions of visitors each year. At the time of its completion in 1935, the Hoover Dam was the largest dam anywhere in the world. It required approximately five million barrels of cement and 45 million pounds of reinforcement steel to build the Hoover Dam. The 6.6 million tons of concrete used for building the Hoover Dam is enough concrete to pave a road from San Francisco to New York City.
Construction proved an immense challenge. Faced with strict time guidelines, workmen had to blast the canyon walls to make tunnels, and sometimes hang 800 feet in the air. The temperature inside the tunnels sometimes reached 140 degrees, and the air was poisoned with dust and carbon monoxide fumes. In fact, 112 men died while building the Hoover Dam. Many of the roughly 21,000 workers who survived populated Boulder City, Nevada, a special town that was built about six miles away, just for the Hoover Dam construction crew.
The commemoration of completion was scheduled to coincide with a western tour being taken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. To mark the occasion, the President gave a speech and the United States Post Office issued a 3-cent stamp bearing the name “Boulder Dam.” After the commemoration, President Roosevelt made the first trip by any President to Las Vegas.
The Hoover Dam opened for tours in 1937, but closed down in 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces. The dam reopened in September of 1945. The Hoover Dam was officially named the Hoover Dam in 1947, and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1985.