A scientific/technological development that happened in 1936 was the completion of the Hoover Dam, about 30 miles from Las Vegas. The Hoover Dam is a testimonial to the resiliency of the American worker and the brilliance of American Engineers. Over 200 engineers and 7,000 dam workers endured amazingly harsh conditions and extreme danger to complete what was deemed an impossible task. They even completed it two years early.
The Colorado River between Arizona and Colorado was known for horrible flooding. In 1931, the Hoover administration decided to create a dam that would control this flooding, irrigate the agricultural areas of California and Arizona, and produce hydroelectric power for millions of people in the area. The project would also provide jobs for thousands of men who flocked into the area, often with their families, in search of work during the depression. The project created a shanty town known as Rag Town for five years. The makeshift town consisted of cardboard boxes, tin scraps and tents, anything that could shelter its 5,000 men, women, and children from the intense summer heat which reached 130°F to 30°F at night. Conditions were devastating with no federal assistance, but one man, Murl Emery and his family came to the workers aid, and opened a store. He gave credit to the 50 cents an hour workers and their families, permitting them to pay what they could afford. Only one man did not pay his debt, and that was because he had died.
Six companies were awarded the contracts for building the Dam for $48,890,955. The Six Company Inc., as it became known, was given incentive bonuses for early completion, and it would be fined for every day the construction was late. “Thus began the around the clock construction.
The Dam was first called the Boulder Dam and it was planned for a site 10 miles up river from where it was finally built. “An engineering reassessment moved the location.” The Colorado River had to be drained and diverted. Four tunnels were built to divert the water through the canyon walls. They needed 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete plus another million for the power plant, so two concrete plants were built on site. A railroad system was built to move the concrete, and an overhead cableway system lowered huge buckets of concrete into the forms. The base needed 230 individual gigantic blocks of concrete between 25 and 60 feet wide which were put together “like a giant Lego set.” Cooling pipes were placed into the concrete slabs, so they would set rapidly. The arch-curved shape of the structure dissipates the water pressure on three sides, and gravity helps to hold it back. It was the job of high-scalers, who hung dangerously by ropes above the canyon cliffs, to remove weak and loosen rock from the Black Canyon walls. Each “High Scaler” was carefully chosen for their fearlessness, agility and physical shape. They earned 75 cents an hour and often entertained the other workers with their death defying feats.
In 1936, Lake Meade on one side of the dam was filled and power generators were turned on. The dam was named for Herbert Hoover, who was instrumental in getting the dam built. The dam is 726 feet high, 1,244 feet wide and has a four lane highway that crosses it. It is a National Historic Landmark, and draws more than seven million tourists per year.