Often considered as one of the biggest engineering triumphs of America, the Hoover Dam is exceptionally big, especially considering the fact it was terminated in 1935. The solid structure supplies water, to this day, to 8 millions of people, as well as electricity to the cities of 3 different states. Besides this it also attracts 1 million of tourists every year.

This construction had a high price to be paid though: around 112 people died during the works of the dam, 96 of whom on the construction site itself. Even though today it is considered as a triumph of construction, it is important to remember that it all started as an experiment, considering that no one had ever built a structure of its kind before.

Many victims were caused by the fact that the workers did not wear safety helmets, and many rocks used to fall down from different heights. The walls of the Canyon had to be load-bearing and the so called “High Scalers” workers climbing down with the ropes, were supposed to place dynamite on the wall of the Canyon to get to the “virgin” hard layer of the rock, for then being crushed by the debris of the explosive they had set up themselves.

Below: two American High Scalers of the Apache tribe, working in the construction

To deal with the not so honourable dead, some High Scalers realised some helmets in felt soaked in tar which offered a minimum of protection against debris when dry. After some time even the Six Companies, the Joint Venture which was building the dam, started supplying protective helmets, but several dead had occurred already by then.

Below: other workers died from the heat; in the summer of the 1931 the temperature got to 48.5°C in the shade (119.3°F)

The total number of victims registered would be higher if the government of the US counted the workers poisoned by carbon monoxide during the construction of the dam. The workers died for lungs failure were 42 and were instead counted as “died from pneumonia”, so not even them were be taken into account as a part of the numbers of the victims.

The trick was employed by the Six Companies in order to not have to pay the families of the victims for what had happened

Many rumours say that inside the concrete many corpses of workers lay, hidden by the subcontractors to avoid the crime news. The conjectures were never proven, but it is unlikely to believe such a thing as the bodies of the men allegedly concealed within the concrete would have weakened the structure.

Below: illustration of the project

Below: the building site at its maximum

Below: the monument to the fallen workers which recites:

“They died to make the desert bloom”

Below: picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

The total number of victims was 112 where the 1st one, J. G. Tierney, drowned in 1922 during a prior inspection and the last one, Patrick W. Tierney, who unbelievably was the son of the previous one, on the 20th December 1935. Last but not least the Hoover Dam is also a known destination for suicides; when falling from the railing in front of the scarp they do not fall in a never-ending void, but against the concrete which destroys the skin in the final impact.

Below: documentary about the Hoover Dam:

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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