Hoover Dam, once known as Boulder Dam, is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between The U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada. When completed in 1936, it was both the world’s largest hydroelectric power generating station and the world’s largest concrete structure. It was surpassed in both these respects by the Grand Coulee Dam in 1945. It is currently the world’s 38th-largest hydroelectric generating station.
Although the dam would take only five years to build, its construction was nearly 30 years in the making. Arthur Powell Davis, an engineer from the Bureau of Reclamation, originally had his vision for the Hoover Dam back in 1902, and his engineering report on the topic became the guiding document when plans were finally made to begin the dam in 1922.
The dam, is located 30 mi (48 km) southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada is named after President Herbert Hoover. Construction began in 1931 and the dam was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 30, 1935 but it was not fully completed until 1936 which was still more than two years ahead of schedule. A commission was formed in 1922 with a representative from each of the Basin states and one from the Federal Government. The federal representative was Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce under President Warren Harding. In January 1922, Hoover met with the state governors of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming to work out an equitable arrangement for apportioning the waters of the Colorado River for their states’ use.
Even with Hoover’s exuberant backing and a regional consensus around the need to build the dam, Congressional approval and individual state cooperation were slow in coming. For many years, water rights had been a source of contention among the western states that had claims on the Colorado River. To address this issue, Hoover negotiated the Colorado River Compact, which broke the river basin into two regions with the water divided between them. Hoover then had to introduce and re-introduce the bill to build the dam several times over the next few years before the House and Senate finally approved the bill in 1928.
The resulting Colorado River Compact, signed on November 24, 1922, split the river basin into upper and lower halves with the states within each region deciding how the water would be divided. This agreement, known as the Hoover Compromise, paved the way for the Boulder Dam Project. This huge dam was built to provide irrigation water flow, for flood control, and for hydroelectric-power generation.
The first attempt to gain Congressional approval for construction of Boulder Dam came in 1922 with the introduction of two bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bills were introduced by Congressman Phil D.Swing and Senator Hiram W. Johnson and were known as the Swing-Johnson bills. The bills failed to come up for a vote and were subsequently reintroduced several times. In December 1928, both the House and the Senate finally approved the bill and sent it to the President for approval. On December 21, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill approving the Boulder Canyon Project.
The initial appropriation for construction was made in July 1930, by which timeHerbert Hoover had become President.Early plans called for the dam to be built in Boulder Canyon, so the project was known as the Boulder Canyon Project. The dam site was eventually moved downstream eight miles to Black Canyon, but the project name remained the same. A major motive for relocating to Black Canyon was that a dam at Boulder Canyon would not have provided sufficient physical control of the river below the damsite-the area of what is called the Boulder basin. Black Canyon provided a better total control of the river that far downstream.
The contract to build the Boulder Dam was awarded to Six Companies Inc. on March 11, 1931, a joint venture of Morrison-Knudsen Company; Utah Construction Company; Pacific Bridge Company; Henry J. Kaiser & W. A. Bechtel Company ; MacDonald & Kahn Ltd. of ; and the J.F. Shea Company of Portland, Oregon. The chief executive of Six Companies Inc, Frank Crowe, had previously invented many of the techniques used to build the dam. During the concrete-pouring and curing portion of construction, it was necessary to pour in sections and circulate refrigerated water through tubes in the concrete. This was to remove the heat generated by the chemical reactions that solidify the concrete. The setting and curing of the concrete was calculated to take about 125 years if poured at once and no additional cooling was done. Six Companies, Inc., did much of this work, but it discovered that such a large refrigeration project was beyond its expertise. Hence, the Union Carbide Corporation was contracted to assist with the refrigeration needs.
Six Companies, Inc. was contracted to build a new town called Boulder City for workers, but the construction schedule for the dam was accelerated in order to create more jobs in response to the onset of the Great Depression, and the town was not ready when the first dam workers arrived at the site in early 1931. During the first summer of construction, workers and their families were housed in temporary camps like Ragtown while work on the town progressed. Since most people equated being close to the dam site with the success of getting a job, most decided to live at the job site. Some who had transportation stayed in Las Vegas to make the daily commute through 30 miles of the dusty and bumpy Boulder road. The infamous community of “Ragtown” on the floor of Black Canyon next to the Colorado River was born. The makeshift shantytown consisted of tents, cardboard boxes, tin scraps and anything else that could serve as shelter against the scalding heat of summer and freezing nights of winter. Ragtown swelled to 1400 people and ballooned to 5,000 men, women and children.
The first summer of 1931 in Ragtown was beyond harsh, it was devastating. With average July temperatures of 116 degrees and approaching 130 degrees on the floor of Black Canyon combined with swirling dust and no natural shade, over 25 men, women and children died in that first June-July period of heat conditions. Discontent with Ragtown and dangerous working conditions at the dam site led to a strike on August 8, 1931. Six Companies responded by sending in strike-breakers with guns and clubs, and the strike was soon quelled.
Although clouded with sediment, the ever flowing water from the Colorado River was sufficient for bathing. The women would drape wet cloth over baby cradles to cool them. Fresh milk was no option and canned food was the only way to avoid spoilage. A man by the name of Murl Emery and his family provided compassionate relief. They opened a store in Ragtown for dam workers and families with food and supplies trucked from Las Vegas. With low hourly labor rates of 50 cents an hour, Murl Emery permitted Ragtown residents to pay what they could afford. Credit was issued on the honor system and only one person ever failed to pay his debt. That was because the customer had died. With no help from the government or the contracted dam building firm, it was Murl Emery and family that provided some relief in form of food and tangible needs.
Times were tough and harsh on everyone, but especially on the blacks. In the 1930s racism and segregation was rampant and the attitude of the Six Companies, Inc. who had been awarded the building contract of Hoover Dam was no exception. Many blacks came to Las Vegas and Black Canyon with hopes of finding dam building jobs and most were turned away because of racism.The federal government mandated that Six Companies, Inc. hire more black workers but made only a token effort by hiring less than 30 blacks. They were given only the demeaning jobs such as debris cleanup and other labor functions undesired by white workers. To compound the difficulty facing the black workers, they weren’t permitted to live in Ragtown and had to commute daily from Las Vegas. Six Companies, Inc. also had employment practices that expressly restricted the hiring of “chinamen”. In spite of an abundance of Native Americans in the region just a few were ever hired. All of them were given the most dangerous of jobs, which was “high scaling” dangling precariously on the canyon walls while clearing obstructions for the eventual joining of dam ends to those canyon cliffs. However, they were paid a higher hourly rate versus general laborers and were permitted to live in Ragtown and eventually in Boulder that became a town for dam workers. The federal government had already begun plans to build a dam workers town on federal land above and close by Black Canyon where Hoover Dam would stand. They pushed forward to quickly achieve workers relief with barracks, housing, stores and general public welfare with churches and schools for the children. That town which became Boulder City, Nevada was completed in 1932. Alcohol sales, membership in unions and all forms of gambling were prohibited in the city. The Bureau did not relinquish control of the city until 1958. Boulder City was officially incorporated on January 4, 1960, and the city council selected pharmacist Robert N. Broadbent as the first mayor. The city charter, approved by the residents, prohibited gambling within the city limits.
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