Partisan gridlock in Congress has prompted skeptics to proclaim the end of government - or at least government's ability to accomplish major projects. At the same time, conservatives now oppose nearly any social or economic role for government and feel it is not government's responsibility to help Americans in need.
But this was not always so. The United States used to be able to come together to solve problems and get things done.
It was an expensive, difficult and time-consuming undertaking. After building roads to the remote site, workers spent years battling freezing winters, scorching summer days in the desert, and flash floods that swept through the canyon.
One of the most complicated challenges was diverting the Colorado River, which was accomplished by digging tunnels on either side of the dam that measured in excess of 50 feet in diameter.
Once the water was diverted, 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete was poured in interlocking blocks, each about five square feet in size, and massive foundations for the dam measuring 25 by 60 feet. A second set of tunnels was dug while the first set was plugged.
On Feb. 1, 1935, the Colorado River was controlled and Lake Mead was created behind the great dam.
There is still speculation about whether anyone is buried in or under the dam, and how many workers lost their lives building it. Ninety-six workers died in construction-related activities.
Workers drowned in the river, died from explosions, were hit by falling rock, or fell from the top. However, as this column so often maintains, truth is stranger than fiction and there is a bizarre story of the first and last workers to die at the dam.
On Dec. 20, 1922, two workers for the Bureau of Reclamation were lost while surveying the site. The first to die was J.G. Tierney, who drowned in the river. The last construction-related death occurred exactly 13 years later on the same day - Dec. 20, 1935 - when a man fell off a tower. His name was Patrick Tierney, the son of the first fatality of the project. Today a plaque honors those workers lost with the words "They died to make the desert bloom..."
There is also a marker for the project's mascot, a dog. The mid-sized, black pooch was born in the workers' dormitories. Every day he ate breakfast with them, rode along to the construction site, and slept with the workers at night. Sadly, on February 21, 1941, he was sleeping under a truck and was crushed when it was moved.
The dog is the only member of the dam crew to be buried on site, and a marker with his likeness on it is still found on the grounds.
Completed in 1935, the Hoover Dam was the world's tallest dam and the world's largest producer of hydroelectric power. Hoover's 17 large generators each produce enough electricity for 100,000 people.
While there are larger dams today, the 726-foot-tall project is an engineering marvel that put over 21,000 pipe-fitters, drill operators, truck drivers, cement pourers, welders, and machinists to work, paying them between $.50 and $1.25 per hour, a good wage for the time. The dam, which is now a National Historic Landmark, brought power to a vast region that lacked electricity and is rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of our seven modern civil engineering wonders.
Today, Congress would block the project on grounds that it is socialism while radio commentators would decry the government takeover of electricity.
Robert Watson, Ph.D. is Professor and Coordinator of American Studies at Lynn University