The Heyday for Hydroelectric Dams: A Wolfsonian Reflection on the Anniversary of the Construction of the Hoover Dam

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On this day in 1930, construction began on the Boulder (later renamed Hoover) Dam. The idea for a great dam originated as early as 1902 with an engineer working for the Bureau of Reclamation. Plans based on his report called for construction to begin in 1922 on a colossal dam that would control flooding and soil erosion, generate electricity, and create a reservoir of water for use by numerous cities and communities.

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The Boulder Dam’s biggest political advocate, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, had to work tirelessly to build consensus and negotiate interstate water rights and claims on the Colorado River, and then to patiently build support for enacting bills in the House and Senate. Congressional approval for the project finally came in 1928, and then President Hoover helped forged the Colorado River Compact in 1929. Construction began the following year on a project that would employ 21,000 men working ceaselessly for five years to construct the world’s largest dam of its day. Amazingly enough, the dam contractors not only completed construction two years ahead of schedule, but also millions of dollars under the projected budget.

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Dam construction served the additional boon of employing tens of thousands of men at the height of the Great Depression. Ironically, when Senator George Norris won passage of a bill in Congress aiming to dam the Tennessee River Valley along the model of the federal dam at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, President Hoover vetoed it as “socialistic.”

After Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover in the presidential election of 1932, he happily signed the Tennessee Valley Authority congressional charter into action. The TVA was responsible for building dozens of federally-funded and operated hydroelectric dams in the Tennessee Valley, including the Douglas, Cherokee, and Norris dams.

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Another New Deal agency, the Public Works Administration was also responsible for the creation of other hydroelectric dam projects such as the Bonneville Power and Navigation Dam in Oregon, the Fort Peck Dam in Montana, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, and the Pensacola Dam in Oklahoma across the country.

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~ by "The Chief" on July 7, 2016.

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