Originally known as the Boulder Dam, the Hoover Dam sits in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, which runs equally in Arizona and Nevada. The name was changed to Hoover Dam in 1947 to honor President Herbert Hoover. The hydroelectric installation, operated by the U.S Bureau of Reclamation, serves as a dam and a power plant that generates water and electricity for surrounding areas of the western United States using hydroelectric power including portions of large cities such as Los Angeles, California, part of Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam, is located in the states of Nevada and Arizona and is the largest reservoir in the United States in terms of water capacity. The Boulder Dam was once the world’s largest structure of its kind. While it no longer holds that title, it is still one of the largest hydroelectric plants in the United States and remains a revered tourist attraction.
When Was The Hoover Dam Built?
Construction on the dam began in 1931; Boulder City, Nevada was constructed specifically to house people working on the project. Along with the vast attraction comes speculation and rumors. When the Boulder Dam project began in the early 1930’s, during the Great Depression, it can only be assumed that building Hoover Dam was handled differently than it would have been today. There was more leniency on transportation methods and safety precautions around the construction site. Suffice to say, there was a little less caution used during the dam’s construction in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, there is no question of whether there were deaths during the construction project. There were. The dam makes a point to honor those who died for the cause. There is even a plaque denoting a special case of a father and son who both died to the construction of the dam on the same date, but many years apart. They were, coincidentally the first and last men to die at the tourist attraction.
When Was The First Recorded Death at the Hoover Dam?
The first recorded death was that of surveyor J.G. Tierney, who drowned before the construction project began. He fell while trying to choose the perfect spot for the dam. Patrick Tierney, the son of J.G. Tierney, was an electrician’s helper. He died on the same day, thirteen years later after falling off of one of the intake towers on the Arizona side of the Black Canyon.
Throughout the project, the biggest danger was falling—whether it be tools or people. “High scalers” were hired to scale the canyon walls and remove any loose rock along the canyon walls prior to the construction of the dam. At the time the highest risk were the dam’s concrete blocks and tools used in construction, including crowbars and jackhammers, falling and causing head injuries or worse, falls. The workers started fashioning hard hats for themselves out of cloth and dried tar. Due to the high number of falls and deaths, hard hats were made a requirement at the site in 1931 by Six Companies, Inc. This was the first time hard hats were required on a construction site. Everyone was required to wear a hard hat. While this reduced the number of deaths from falling objects, there were still fatalities.
The alarming number of lives lost spur the assumption that there are bodies buried in the Hoover Dam. Of the 5,251 workers on the project, the number of fatalities clocks in at around 96 for industrial fatalities at the dam site. Not included are those who suffered alleged pneumonia (some reports claim the cause of death for these men to actually be carbon monoxide poison) and heatstroke.
While many people died at the dam site, nobody is buried there. Even if someone managed to get caught in the dam’s wet concrete as it was setting, which was rare, the bodies were removed as swiftly as possible. The stability of the dam was taken into consideration from start to finish during the construction of the Hoover Dam. Per the Bureau of Reclamation, there are 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete in the dam.
The alarming number of lives lost spur the assumption that there are bodies buried in the Hoover Dam. Of the 5,251 workers on the project the number of fatalities clocks in at around 96- for industrial fatalities at the dam site. Not included are those who suffered alleged pneumonia (some reports claim the cause of death for these men to actually be carbon monoxide poison) and heatstroke.
While many people died at the dam site, nobody is buried there. All bodies were removed up death. Even if someone managed to get caught in the dam’s concrete as it was setting, which was rare, the bodies were removed as swiftly as possible. The stability of the dam was taken into consideration from start to finish during the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Given its size and responsibility, it was crucial that it be as near indestructible as possible. This included finding virgin rock containing zero cracks as well as removing all bodies. Since the dam is made of material that will not decay and human bodies are degradable, they pose an architectural threat. Over time, air pockets and eventual weak spots and cracks in the Hoover Dam would form because of the bodies. Needless to say, we can’t have that!
So, now you know! Nobody is buried at or under the Hoover Dam site. Feel free to enjoy the magnificent site so many people worked hard to create and then take that trip to Vegas, baby!
Editor’ note: This article was originally published on July 29, 2019.