The Hoover Dam

Soaking Up an American Engineering Marvel


I married an engineer and have three math-minded children, so skipping a stop at the engineering wonder that is the Hoover Dam during our 2015 family trip to the Southwestern U.S. was not likely.

We all wanted to go, but the temperature in Las Vegas that June 26 day was a scorching 113 degrees Fahrenheit. It foretold of a heat we had never experienced in North Carolina. It also laid the groundwork for plenty of “dam” jokes throughout the day. “It’s pretty dam hot here!”

We left McCarran International Airport in our rental SUV and headed down U.S. 515, driving through Boulder City, a small town constructed in the early 1930s to serve as a home for 5,000 dam project workers. In 1960, the town incorporated; today it accommodates a population of more than 15,000.

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About 8 miles further down the road — and a total of 33 miles from the airport — we arrived at the 726-foot-high, curved axe-shaped dam. Upon first site, it’s difficult to take in the magnitude of a structure that is taller than the Washington Monument and two football fields thick. Its massive presence took our collective breath away.

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Checking things off my bucket list this trip…

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What the Hoover Dam did for struggling American workers during the early 1930s should not go unrecognized. This colossal project offered the promise of economic security to thousands of jobless men looking for work during the early 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression. A total of 21,000 men worked on the dam between 1931 and 1936 — an average of 3,500 each day. The work was not easy. Dam-related industrial accidents claimed the lives of 96 of those workers.

I write this post on the exact day in 1930 — July 7 — that construction of the Hoover Dam began. I could go on about how many generators kick on when the dam operates at full power (17), or how much electricity those generators can supply (enough for a city of 750,000 people), but let’s get to the quirky, creative facts non-engineering brains, like mine, find interesting. Here are five worth checking out.

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