The Hoover Dam provides power and water to some of America’s driest cities and states. Without this 6,600,000 ton Dam cities like Los Angeles, Phoneix, and Las Vegas would never have grown into the major metropolises we know and love to visit today. Hoover Dam draws seven million tourists a year to Nevada and Arizona but not everyone knows its history.
This Dam’s conception began in 1905 after the Colorado river flooded, destroying multiple roadways, homes, and crops in its wake. In 1922 then-Secretary of Commerce Hoover ensured water rights and negotiations between California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. He was successful and created the Colorado River Compact. It was actually President Coolidge who signed off on the project in 1928, but construction didn’t begin until 1931 under now-President Hoover. The Dam was called Boulder Dam due to its original location near the Boulder Canyon of Colorado, until 1947 when it was changed by FDR. Construction of this massive project began on April 20, 1931 and would require between 3,500-5,200 men at any one time. Men flocked to this opportunity for a job during the height of the Great Depression and in total 21,000 men worked on creating Hoover Dam.
In order to house these men, the U.S. government built Boulder City, a town six miles from the construction site where food, rent, and transportation were supplied and deducted from the men’s payment. Pay ranged from 50 cents to $1.25 an hour with an average rate of 62.5 cents an hour. This would be about $10.72-$26.81 an hour today. Boulder City’s construction was not completed by the time work began, however, and for the first summer, workers lived out of tents. Upon completion, the town housed families, but the majority of these workers were single men. And what do most working men away from their families in the middle of nowhere want? Entertainment. Hoover Dam’s workforce occupied Boulder City, but Las Vegas was just 28 miles away. Gambling, brothels, and despite Prohibition, it can be assumed, booze drew these men to spend what little free time and cash they had in Sin City. It was stated that twice a month, on payday, a long line of cars could be seen exiting Boulder City towards Las Vegas.
But we cannot say they didn’t earn this debauched time off; work on the Hoover Dam was laborious and dangerous. With a goal to finish the Dam in only seven years the men faced grueling work schedules, up to 140-degree heat, and injuries such as falls, crushes, or explosions. If one was to be injured, it was desired to have it happen on the Arizona side as their state’s law required higher pay to the injured/their family. Injured men were described as dragging themselves over the Nevada border into Arizona and workmates carried dead colleagues across before reporting the death. It was reported in the Summer of 1933 a worker died every two days. In the end, the official number of men who died is 96 but other estimates suggest up to 112 fatalities.
Despite injuries, death, strikes, and setbacks, the Dam itself was finished in 1935 in just five years, two years ahead of schedule. Today, Hoover Dam supplies 1.3 million people with water and hydroelectricity just as it has done and will continue to do for so many generations of Southwesterners. Don’t miss this eighth wonder of the world! Take a 3 Hour Hoover Dam Mini Tour today!