5 facts about… Hoover Dam

With a new report arguing that dams are a financially risky investment, we look at the history of the famous Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam Bridge View

The University of Oxford report claims that many dam projects vastly exceed projected budgets. The 726ft-high Hoover Dam cost $49m, an estimated $700m today.


It was built between 1931 and was officially handed over to the government from the architects, Six Companies, on 1 March 1936. In the Black Canyon, it stretches across the Colorado River on the border of the US states of Arizona and Nevada.

Here are five more facts about the Hoover Dam…

1) Construction was under the supervision of chief dam engineer Frank T Crowe, nicknamed ‘Hurry Up’. He lived up to this name – the dam was completed two years ahead of schedule.

2) One of the more dangerous jobs was to be a ‘high scaler’ – hanging from ropes on the canyon walls to remove loose rock with hammers and dynamite. The job involved such death-defying acts that some high scalers were previously circus acrobats. In order to protect their heads from falling rock, they would dip their hats in tar and wait for it to harden so they would act like an ingenious, early form of a hard hat.

3) Working on the dam was dangerous work, and not just for high scalers. Ninety-six deaths due to industrial accident are recorded, but it is alleged more died from carbon monoxide poisoning caught in the tunnels. The first man to die on the project, JG Tierney, fell into the Colorado River on 20 December 1922 while surveying the site. Bizarrely, the last death was on the same date 13 years later and was Tierney’s son, Patrick.  

4) The dam had its own mascot – a black puppy became a much-loved feature of the building of the dam. Construction workers unofficially adopted the dog but, unfortunately, it was killed on site. It is buried at the Hoover Dam, near the current tour centre.


5) The Hoover Dam began life under a different name. Originally called ‘Boulder Dam’, it was controversially changed when Herbert Hoover became President. When Roosevelt took over the presidency, the name changed back (Hoover was extremely unpopular due to the impact of the Great Depression) but in 1947, it was permanently renamed Hoover Dam.