Skip to comments.Rachel Maddow About the Damned Dam? (Did Big Government Build the Hoover Dam?)
Posted on 11/03/2011 6:41:26 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Hoover Dam has become something of a liberal icon these days. President Obama points to it as an example of the sort of federally funded projects that once unleashed all the potential in this country potential that his next round of stimulus will unleash again. MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow has pointed to the 726-foot-high, 660-foot-wide dam as proof that some projects are just too big for private enterprise. You cant be the guy that built this, she tells the TV screen. Only government can, is the implication.
Well, that would come as a surprise to the guy who did build it or, rather, the guys who did, with their private companies. In the five-year process they discovered, even back then, that the biggest obstacle they faced in Black Canyon wasnt nature or the Great Depression, but New Deal Washington.
The truth was, construction on the scale of Hoover Dam lay far beyond the powers of the federal government in 1931 or even later. Four and a half million cubic yards of concrete enough to build a two-lane highway from San Francisco to New York and 19 million pounds of reinforcing steel somehow had to be moved into the middle of the Nevada wilderness to construct both the dam and a 1.2-million-horsepower electric plant. Thousands of tons of loose rock then had to be scraped by hand from the surface of Black Canyon, before massive tunnels could be dug to divert the Colorado River to power the plant and then fill a reservoir 115 miles long with a 550-mile shoreline.
The heads of the consortium of six private construction firms that won the $48 million contract, which came to be known as the Big Six, werent the kind of business leaders who would appear on a presidential jobs commission today. Idaho builders Harry Morrison and Morris Knudsen (of Morrison-Knudsen), Utah Constructions Bill Wattis, and California road-makers Henry Kaiser and Warren Bechtel (whose company later became the bête noire of the American Left) had all left school early to do manual labor. Kaiser had quit at 14; as a teenager, Bill Wattis had pounded rail spikes for the Union Pacific Railroad; Pacific Bridges Charlie Shea smoked foul-smelling cigars and dressed like one of his workmen. Only the heads of the venerable San Francisco construction firm Kahn and MacDonald had ever attended college, and Alan MacDonald had been such a misfit that he was fired from 15 different jobs before partnering with Felix Kahn.
Indeed, in 1931, only Morrison and his architect Frank Crowe knew much about building dams (at one point Kahn and MacDonald had tried their hand at it and failed).
But what they all did have was experience in big construction projects and mines, and a dedicated knack for doing the impossible. They and their workers and engineers built not only the dam, but also all the roads, railways, and other infrastructure necessary to bring in their equipment and materials. Kaiser and his partners even built an entire town (todays Boulder City) to house their 5,200-strong work force.
And through it all the Six Companies had a running battle with Washington and the Interior Department.
Interior Secretary Harold Ickes had seen the dam as essentially a federal make-work project for the unemployed. Kaiser and his colleagues had to point out that they needed men with genuine skills, not just people willing to turn up for a paycheck. Ickes wanted the door open to union organizing; the builders convinced him the key to happy workers was paying them well, not giving them a union card. Ickes wanted every federal health and safety regulation to be rigorously enforced, and counted no fewer than 70,000 violations of the letter of the contract. They patiently showed him that applying those standards would mean the dam would never be finished on time, let alone on budget.
Union organizers did turn up to agitate, and there were two strikes that halted work. But by and large, the men who worked seven days a week, ten hours a day on Hoover Dam proved union-resistant. They fought heat stroke, dust storms, falling rocks, poisonous snakes and Gila monsters, and a constant lack of clean water in temperatures that rose to 120 degrees in summer and plunged to 20 degrees in winter, and all for an average of 75 cents an hour.
But they sensed that Kaiser and the Six Companies had given them more than a paycheck at a time when one out of every five Americans were out of work. They had given them a sense of pride and accomplishment not to mention steel safety helmets, making Hoover Dam the nations first hard hat construction job.
When the epic job was finished ahead of schedule, and some $4 million under budget, one of the workers wrote:
Abe Lincoln freed the Negroes And old Nero he burned Rome, But the Big Six helped depression When they gave the stiff a home.
When President Roosevelt came to the dedication on Sept. 30, 1935, he said, This morning I came, I saw, and I was conquered, as everyone will be who sees for the first time this great feat of mankind.
Except it wasnt. Hoover Dam was the great feat of American business. If President Obama is looking for the imagination and ambition that will get this country moving again, thats where hell find it, rather than in Washington.
Arthur Herman is a visiting scholar at AEI.
Couldn’t build it today, under any circumstances. Environmental lobby would kill it.
maybe they should dam the Ohio River and flood Chicago
All the great building projects of the 30s, 40s, and 50s would never be built today with the EPA guarding the gates.
Madcow should know all about dyk...er...I mean dams.
It is amazing what I learn on F.R. Thanks for posting this!
Concrete "curing" ( setting/hardening) is an exothermic reaction...it gives off heat. In the base of the dam, so much heat, that there are miles of water pipes that run through the structure, to draw off the heat. Indeed, in the deepest parts of the dam, the concrete is still not fully cured....heat is still generated.
Name rings a bell. Clintonista? Ickes? Like father like son.
Between Davis-Bacon, and Federal Contract requirements of Union Labor, private companies that are non-Union are not included in the plans....taxpayers will pick up the slack, and donate through this money-laundering to keep the Unions funded, and pay off Democrats who look after them.
That would be a feat!
You can’t build any major project today without some environmental group filing an injunction to protect some woodpecker, snail or insect. A current example is the natural gas pipeline from Canada down to Oklahoma.
Dams are being removed all over the country because they prevent salmon & trout from swimming upstream.
The safety standards were pretty funny. At the Hoover Dam a few years ago, we watched the short film and took the tour. There was one photo in the movie that was a guy standing on a skinny ridge with a steep drop off on either side, smoking a cigarette next to a crate of dynamite. He was shirtless and had no climbing rope. I can’t remember if he had a helmet. The situation of those workers was truly scary, and there were accidents that befell them.
Brave guys, and yet probably only a bit braver than average for that era.
maybe they should dam the Ohio River and flood Chicago
That would be tricky...
Forget it, he’s on a roll.
Geography apparently is not the writer's forte.
Or, dam the Chicago River and flood Ohio.
Geography apparently is not the writer's forte.
Why, where is it? I guess he could have said Nevada/Arizona wilderness.
I’ve always wanted to sail down the Erie Canal.
Notice it was named for Herbert Hoover (who started the project) and not FDR>
It’s nothing but miles of barren, hostile, rocky desert and unnavigable mountains in every direction. His description is accurate.
....and finally, I’m glad author Herman didn’t let Maddow get away with her “only big government” lie. I hope this finds its way back to her.
Someone should stuff this article in Mad-Cow's mouth.
The fact is that big government taxes built the Hoover Dam.
My understanding of the design for the dam was that the safety factor was TEN. The folks behind building it wanted to be able to build more and didn't want the first one to have any issues.
Great piece. A time line would be useful as would a reference.
And it was called Boulder Dam before a sorry politician got his name attached
duhhhhhhhhhhh so was the moon project
So... the government gets a couple of things done right
I guess it must be the 99% of government programs filled with waste, fraud, and incompetance that give the others a bad name.
It was called Boulder because no one wanted to give Hoover any credit for anything positive.
It was the democRATS who changed the name from Hoover to Boulder because they wanted to smear Hoover’s name. The name was later changed back to Hoover Dam.
I love the documentaries about the Hoover dam. Designed with T-squares and slide rules, supervised by engineers who wore funny uniforms and built by hand. Awesome.
Over 100 men died during the construction...I think that 30+ died building the Golden Gate Bridge..
Looks like someone got started a little early this morning. You gotta ratchet down the Old Crow in your coffee.
The south side of the dam is attached to Arizona. Hardly the "middle" of the Nevada wilderness. Of course, the entire state is wilderness, with a few relatively tiny pockets of civilization, plus Reno and Las Vegas. ;-)
My three kids are in college or recently graduated. I swear at least 1/3 of their friends are going into “environmental law” which is nothing but obstruction of any progress. It is dismaying that I know only one or two aspiring engineers among their friends, but maybe tens of kids moving into “environmental” work. This bodes even worse for our future.
am only here to entertain, the easily entertained
Exactly. I have also heard that there is a HUGE plan among the power elite to “re-wild” the areas with dams, along with all kinds of regs as you say, to stop them from interfering with fish spawning.
Our dams truly are under attack by the power hungry. Getting rid of the dams would also have the effect of “necessarily making our energy costs skyrocket.” As well as making a lot of people and farms thirsty downstream from them.
Narrower lanes then.
A walking path maybe.
For the last twenty years, EVERY college graduate says they want to go into "environmental law" because they know people hate lawyers and they want to sound cool.
There aren't really any environmental law jobs. Trust me, ten years from now, all of your kid's friends will be lawyers for Phillip Morris, WalMart, Exxon/Mobil, and Halliburton.
It's just like every 17 year old girl plans to be a Veterinarian.
Don’t be so damned stupid in your entertainment then.
Almost all of Nevada is barren hostile rocky desert, but Hoover Dam is nowhere close to the middle of Nevada. His error was somewhat minor, but ignores Arizona. A more accurate description would have been; In the middle of the barren regions of the southwest on the Arizona-Nevada border.
LOL. Sounds like you have them all figured out. In the end, lawyer jobs for “social justice” don’t pay squat and it is always nice to have income.
Earth to Obama!....Federal projects will not keep the economy going, IDIOT!!!
When you deny that the government built Hoover Dam, you’re not making the case for limited government. You’re calling your own credibility into question, because the Feds in fact built the dam — they initiated and paid for it — using private contractors.
To deny that there are some things government should do and has done (like maintaining the military, building the highway system, going to the moon, and yeah, building Hoover Dam) is childish and does nothing to make the case for limited government.