At the time of its completion, the Hoover Dam was the largest dam in the world. Today, it remains the largest dam of its type in the United States and provides invaluable water to the southwest.
Nestled in the Black Canyon, the Hoover Dam helps control the Colorado River’s flooding cycle that once devastated nearby communities. Construction started in 1931 and finished in 1935. 21,000 individuals worked on the monumental project and just under 100 individuals died from the dangerous working conditions. In order to authorize building the dam, the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada had to decide how to divide water rights along the Colorado River between themselves and Mexico. Ultimately, the Hoover Dam is not just an engineering marvel of American ingenuity but also a display of states working in union to overcome a shared problem.
Before the Public Works Administration could begin construction, they needed labor. Would-be construction laborers flocked to Las Vegas for the chance to work on the construction of the dam. The project took place during the Great Depression and, although it was authorized under Herbert Hoover’s presidency, was a symbol of the public works projects that President Franklin Roosevelt used to put Americans back to work. The project was not without risks and conflict. In August of 1931, the workers at the Hoover Dam went on strike. Their complaint was against unsafe working conditions. Individuals toiled in tunnels that could reach up to 140 degrees, which was made worse by Las Vegas’s heat. In July, the average high of the day hovered at about 106 degrees. There were also casualties from the unsafe conditions, such as workers falling from heights of up to 800 feet. Construction also kicked up dust and produced carbon monoxide. Both are dangerous, with carbon monoxide being potentially deadly. Despite these dangers, sufficient labor remained. There were enough workers that Boulder City was created in order to provide closer living quarters to the worksite.
The spectacle of the enormous structure has drawn tourists since before it was even finished. Tourists began visiting the dam before its completion, leading the team to construct an observation deck in order to keep visitors away from the dangerous worksite. Today, around 7 million individuals visit the dam itself while around 10 million individuals visit the lake created by the dam, named Lake Mead. At the time it was the largest dam in the world, and while others have eclipsed it in size, in the United States it remains the tallest dam, and Lake Mead the largest lake created by a dam.