September 30th, 1935 – Boulder Dam or Hoover Dam?

Today-In-History

On September 30th, 1935, the Hoover Dam, that strides the border between Arizona and Nevada, was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Hoover_Dam_President_Roosevelt

Initially known as Boulder Dam, it 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. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives. 

Since about 1900, the Black Canyon and nearby Boulder Canyon had been investigated for their potential to support a dam that would control floods, provide irrigation water and produce hydroelectric power. In 1928, Congress authorized the project. The winning bid to build the dam was submitted by a consortium called Six Companies, Inc., which began construction on the dam in early 1931. Such a large concrete structure had never been built before, and some of the techniques were unproven. The torrid summer weather and lack of facilities near the site also presented difficulties. Nevertheless, Six Companies turned over the dam to the federal government on March 1st, 1936, more than two years ahead of schedule.

Boulder Dam

During the years of lobbying leading up to the passage of legislation authorizing the dam in 1928, the press generally referred to the dam as “Boulder Dam” or as “Boulder Canyon Dam”, even though the proposed site had shifted to Black Canyon. The Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928 (BCPA) never mentions a proposed name or title for the dam. The BCPA merely allows the government to “construct, operate, and maintain a dam and incidental works in the main stream of the Colorado River at Black Canyon or Boulder Canyon”.

When Secretary Wilbur spoke at the ceremony starting the building of the railway between Las Vegas and the dam site on September 17th, 1930, he named the dam “Hoover Dam”, citing a tradition of naming dams after Presidents, though none had been so honored during their terms of office. Wilbur justified his choice on the ground that Hoover was “the great engineer whose vision and persistence … has done so much to make [the dam] possible”. One writer complained in response that “the Great Engineer had quickly drained, ditched, and dammed the country”.

hoover_dam_statue 680

The dam is adorned with Art Deco statues.

After Hoover’s election defeat in 1932 and the accession of the Roosevelt administration, Secretary Ickes ordered on May 13th, 1933 that the dam be referred to as “Boulder Dam”. Ickes stated that Wilbur had been imprudent in naming the dam after a sitting president, that Congress had never ratified his choice, and that it had long been referred to as Boulder Dam. When Ickes spoke at the dedication ceremony on September 30, 1935, he was determined, as he recorded in his diary, “to try to nail down for good and all the name Boulder Dam”. At one point in the speech, he spoke the words “Boulder Dam” five times within thirty seconds. Further, he suggested that if the dam were to be named after any one person, it should be for California Senator Hiram Johnson, a lead sponsor of the authorizing legislation. Roosevelt also referred to the dam as Boulder Dam, and the Republican-leaning Los Angeles Times, which at the time of Ickes’ name change had run an editorial cartoon showing Ickes ineffectively chipping away at an enormous sign “HOOVER DAM”, reran it showing Roosevelt reinforcing Ickes, but having no greater success.

In the following years, the name “Boulder Dam” failed to fully take hold, with many Americans using both names interchangeably and mapmakers divided as to which name should be printed. Memories of the Great Depression faded, and Hoover to some extent rehabilitated himself through good works during and after World War II. In 1947, a bill passed both Houses of Congress unanimously restoring the name “Hoover Dam”. Ickes, who was by then a private citizen, opposed the change, stating, “I didn’t know Hoover was that small a man to take credit for something he had nothing to do with.”

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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