Book These Best-Rated Hoover Dam Tours

Some History For Your Tour of the Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam Architectural Map

Pictured Above:  1930 Boulder Dam Project, Hoover Dam map; 45-D-922

The Hoover Dam has been recognized as one of the world’s largest hydro-electric generating dams. It ranks among the top ten architectural wonders of the world.  What’s more impressive about this concrete behemoth is the fact that it was constructed during the Great Depression (cir. 1930s) and is still in full operation today. The Dam generates electricity to millions of people in Nevada, California, and Arizona every day.

The Hoover Dam was originally called the Boulder Dam because of its close proximity to Boulder Canyon. Later the dam would be named after President Herbert Hoover even though President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill authorizing it’s construction on December 21, 1928.  The Hoover Dam’s construction cost $49 million dollars in its time, which would be approximately $833 million dollars today if adjusted for inflation.  The United States Bureau of Reclamation put the project out to bid and the “Six Companies, Inc.” was awarded the contract.  The Six Companies consisted of:

  • Bechtel Corporation and Henry J.Kaiser Company
  • MacDonald and Kahn
  • Utah Construction Company
  • Morrison-Knudsen
  • Pacific Bridge Company
  • J.F. Shea

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s chief design engineer John Savage was a part of the oversight of the Dam’s concrete arch-gravity dam design.  The idea was to build the dam into a wedge shape and divert the water’s force through the Hoover Dam’s canyon rock wall abutments.  The bottom of the dam would be 200 meters thick and would narrow to 14 meters thick at the top.

Construction on Hoover Dam began very quickly.  The initial plan to build housing for the workers before Hoover Dam’s construction was altered when President Hoover moved the construction date up from October to March 1931.  The Six Companies, Inc. built bunkhouses which were attached to the canyon wall to house 480 men.  Any worker who was hired with a family was left to make their own arrangements for their family’s lodging.  Many families made their way to Boulder City which was under construction.  As they waited, many family members lived in a tent city, dubbed by locals as “Rag Town.”

The Great Depression era carried with it some unique issues.  Many people were out of work and desperately seeking employment.  As soon as the Boulder Canyon/Hoover Dam project made national news, a flood of between 15,000 to 20,000 prospective workers descended upon Southern Nevada looking for work with the Six Companies, Inc.  In 1932, there were over 3,000 workers on the Six Companies payroll.  By 1934 there were 5,251.  Because of political and economic factors of the time the Six Companies were forbidden from hiring Chinese labor based on the wording within the Congressional Dam Construction contract.

The first portion of the Hoover Dam’s construction revolved around diverting the Colorado River.  This would require the building of two coffer dams.  The coffer dams were designed to protect the project from flooding.  The upper coffer dam, above where Hoover Dam was to be constructed, was 29 meters high and 230 meters thick at its base. This was engineered to be thicker than Hoover Dam itself as it was to contain 650,000 cubic yards of material.

Once the coffer dams were built it was necessary for the workers to clear away erosion soil and other loose material until solid rock was exposed to attach to.  The canyon side walls were cleared as well by men who called “high scalers.”  These men would dangle over the side of the canyon and chip away at the canyon walls with jackhammers and dynamite.  By June of 1933 the foundation excavations were complete.  1,500,000 cubic yards of material had been removed to provide the ideal foundation.

Hoover Dam Side-view Blueprint

Pictured Above:  1930 Boulder Dam Project, Hoover Dam and Appurtenant Works top and side section map; 45-D-3230

Hoover Dam running the water out

Pictured Above:  United States Bureau of Reclamation photo showing the release of water from Lake Mead through Hoover Dam’s overflow tunnels.

Hoover Dam Cement Form Pouring

Pictured Above:  Hoover Dam Concrete pour.

USPS 3-cent Hoover Dam stamp

Pictured Above:  The 3 Cent stamp created by the United States Postal Service to commemorate the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam was not constructed in one continuous pour. If the Bureau of Reclamation had decided to take this approach it would endanger the dam by taking over 125 years to cool (as a material cement expands as it heats and contracts as it cools) and risk massive cracks or even crumbling. To effectively construct the dam and provide a faster cure time the engineers came up with an ingenious solution. They decided to build the dam using a series of rectangle concrete blocks that they would pour and stack in columns. Within each rectangular concrete form pipes were embedded to carry cooled river water. This enabled the individual block to cure faster and stop the contraction. The cooling pipes within the block would then be filled with grout.

The last of the concrete was poured on May 29, 1935. On September 30, 1933, 10,000 people attended the Hoover Dam dedication ceremony which was given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The United States Postal Service also created a 3-cent stamp to commemorate the architectural achievement.

To beautify the Hoover Dam the Bureau of Reclamation tapped Gordon B. Kaufmann (then the supervising architect) to design the exteriors. Mr. Kaufmann streamlined the design by applying an Art Deco style to the Dam. One unique feature was Kaufman’s implementation of two clocks on the intake towers. The intake tower on the Nevada side displayed Nevada time and the tower on Arizona side displayed Arizona time. Kaufman sought additional assistance in his beautification project by hiring Denver artist Allen Tupper True. True created designs that incorporated motifs of Navajo and Pueblo tribes. The art can still be seen throughout the dam today.

In 2003, another architectural wonder began to be constructed directly in front of the Hoover Dam. This new marvel would later be named the Mike O’CallaghanPat Tillman Memorial Bridge. The bridge is 1,900 feet long and it has a 1,060 foot span. The new bridge is the first concrete-and-steel composite arch bridge built in the United States and is the second highest bridge in the country.

When you are visiting the Las Vegas, Nevada area, treat yourself to an amazing small group experience by booking a Hoover Dam Top-To-Bottom Tour with Pink Jeep Tours.

Fun Questions to Get Answers From Your Pink Jeep Tours Guide:

  • Did the Hoover Dam ever suffer major leaks?  If so, how did they fix them?
  • How much electricity does the Hoover Dam generate in a day?