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Fortune Magazine
September 1933

Cover art from Fortune Magazine, September 1933.The following article was taken from the September 1933 issue of Fortune Magazine. At that time the name of the dam had switched from Hoover to Boulder Dam. It would stay Boulder Dam until 1947, when Congress changed the name back to Hoover Dam. Because this article was published before the dam was completed there are some inaccuracies. Editorial comments will appear within brackets [ ]. This is a long article and has been broken up into several sections. Click on the continue button at the bottom of each page to go to the next section.

The Dam

Boulder Dam will probably be the biggest dam, perhaps the biggest man-made thing in the whole wide world. But since engineering is a craft in which men hold their jobs by being exactly right, even the dam engineers make no flat claim for their colossus. They tell you there are other canyons and other rivers which could take greater dams. But below these other rivers there are no dried out wastes of potential farm land wide enough for their prisoned floods to water; and, as populations are now settling, no cities are at hand to burn their power. Probably they won't be built.

Boulder Dam was, first of all, a vision in the desert. It was the vision primarily of Arthur Powell Davis of the U.S. Reclamation Service [now called the Bureau of Reclamation]. A month before he died, Arthur Powell Davis was Aerial view of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. BOR photo p45-3000-01501.appointed Consulting Engineer on the dam project. And thereby hangs a nicely ironic tale. Mr. Davis had his vision back in 1902. His uncle, John Wesley Powell, made the first foolhardy explorations of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in the late 1860's and 1870's. The awful gorges of the Colorado were common gossip in the Powell-Davis families. And in 1902 Arthur Powell Davis, having taken a civil engineering degree at Columbian (now George Washington) University, and having spent several years as hydrographer with the abortive Nicaragua Canal Commission, began to make his own rich contribution to the Colorado's history. He studied the endless, mud-shwishing Gulliver sprawled across the sun-scorched wastes of the Southwest. Now it moved in perpetual twilight under precipices as terrifying as the cliffs of dream. Now it wound into remorseless sunlight between lonely rock horizons upon whose brows you half expected to see the stain of perspiration. Near the southern tip of Nevada the river entered Black Canyon. The walls of Black Canyon are considerably higher than the Woolworth Building and they diverge enough to be thoroughly baked by the sun. There is no hotter or more desolate scene on the Colorado - a turgid stream in a towering furnace of stone, a parching parody of all that the sweet word river has meant to the poets.

There in Black Canyon Arthur Powell Davis had his vision. For twenty succeeding years he gave his finest energies t the notion of the dam. Boulder Dam became a local and then a national issue. It involved scores of prominent Americans in disputes political, financial, and technical. But in the jagged valleys of the Colorado or in Washington or anywhere else there was no dispute about one fact: Boulder Dam was fundamentally the conception of Arthur Powell Davis; it was everlastingly based on his monumental engineering report. In 1923 the wrangling got so hectic in the office o Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work that Mr. Davis resigned his positions as Director and Chief Engineer to the Reclamation Service. Gray and gentle and disillusioned, he went to California, where he worked on local aqueducts, and to Turkestan, where he was the Soviets' Chief Consulting Engineer on irrigation.

For ten years Boulder Dam proceeded without him. The money was at long last
appropriated, actual blasting was begun. In California, far from these detonations, Mr. Davis' health began to fail. The Prosperity Party changed the name of the project to Hoover Dam. Mr. Davis' name, which had never had much advertisement in the first place, dropped out of memory as quickly as that of any ill and retired American. On June first of this year the first buckets of concrete were poured into the hugest mold ever conceived; the Colorado already writhed helplessly in a strait-jacket of stone and steel. At length in mid-July the forgotten Mr. Davis received his own particular New Deal. The new Administration concluded perhaps that just dues were better late than never, and Mr. Davis appointment as consulting Engineer on Boulder Dam was announced by Secretary Ickes. And at seventy-two Arthur Powell Davis returned, or was returned, to his vision. His health was too delicate to permit much actual field work in the Molochian jaws of Black Canyon. But on the Washington records he was back at what any of the boys on the canyon will be first to admit was his job. By 1936, seventeen months or better ahead of schedule, Mr. Arthur Powell Davis' vision will stand materialized across the broken back of the Colorado, a barrier so vast that few men without seeing it will be able to sense its size.

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Last Reviewed: 9/10/2004