The Hoover Dam is one of the most important engineering projects in American history, both because of what it does and because of what it represents. The initial purpose of the dam was very simple: it was designed to halt the flow of the Colorado River so the water could be distributed to farmers in the Southwest while also generating electricity for the surrounding communities. It was successful in both regards – today, the Hoover Dam generates about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of power every year, and the freshwater reservoir it created is the largest in the country, providing water deliveries to towns and cities in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. The water and electricity provided by the dam are directly responsible for the growth of major southwestern cities like Phoenix and even Los Angeles.
However, the national impact of the Hoover Dam goes far beyond water and electricity. The dam itself is a wildly ambitious marvel of engineering, standing over 60 stories tall and with a concrete base as thick as two football fields laid end-to-end. It required enough concrete to pave a highway from San Francisco to New York, and the manmade lake it created holds enough water to completely cover the entire state of Connecticut. Construction lasted for almost five years and required over 20,000 workers, almost 100 of whom died in workplace accidents. This work wasn’t cheap, of course – the government had to find $50 million to pay for the cost of construction, all during the hardships of the Great Depression. In today’s money, that’s close to $750 million!
Despite the economic troubles of the Depression and the extreme ambition of the original plan, the Hoover Dam was a total success. It came to represent the indomitable spirit and capabilities of the American worker and is still considered to be one of the most impressive civil engineering projects in human history.
If you want to learn more about the Hoover Dam, we recommend our own self-guided driving tour that starts in Las Vegas and ends at the dam. We also offer Action+, a new yearly subscription that offers access to all 100+ of our US tours for a single price.
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