Hoover Dam: A Study in Creativity, Innovation, and Vision

I had the spectacular opportunity to visit the Hoover Dam in early February 2012.  While gazing down on the Colorado River on one side and Lake Mead on the other, I could not help but wonder about the minds and leadership skills of the people who determined that this dam would solve problems created by a raging river … and that construction of this structure could be accomplished regardless of water, mountains, and rock.  Was the design and building of the Hoover Dam a result of the “leadership elements” of creativity, innovation, and vision?

An example of collaboration of state and federal governments and private enterprises, the construction of the Hoover Dam is a marvel of engineering embedded in the magnificence of a vast vista.  (Photos do not do it justice!)

The structure is 726.4 feet high; 1,244 feet across at the top; 660 feet thick at the base; 45 feet thick at the top; weighs 6.6 million tons and contains 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete in the dam, itself – not counting the concrete in the other structures.

The dam was built to serve a four-fold purpose:  flood control; regulation of irrigation flow; power generation; and silt storage.

With a $49,000,000 contract award to Six Companies Incorporated, work began on the construction of the dam in April 1931.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the dam in September 1935.  Operation of the first power generator began October 1936.  Five years to create “one of the seven modern civil engineering wonders of the United States” – as named by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1955.  (By the way, the dam was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.)

So where did creativity and innovation come in to play?  Some examples –

  • The creation of Boulder City, Nevada – the company town where 80 percent of the company employees lived during the construction period; designed as a model company town with green space and recreational areas.
  • The drilling of four huge tunnels through solid rock in order to divert the Colorado River around the dam site while excavation for the foundation was underway and until the massive concrete barrier was partially erected.
  • Construction of 30 miles of railroad track (a private and federal government collaboration) for the transportation of materials and equipment.
  • The use of a refrigeration plant to cool the poured concrete reducing the concrete cooling period from 125 years to 20 months and enabling the grout to be poured without threat of the dam cracking.
  • The building and use of ten aerial cableways spanning the Black Canyon constructed to transport men, materials and machinery up and down canyon walls.
  • The power plant construction process where the structure was erected with materials lowered from 600 feet above the ground instead of being raised from ground level.

Should you be thinking … “So what?  This was just a construction project.”  … remember the climate – remember the location – remember the times.

And who were the visionaries?  I am sure many contributed.  However, three stand out to me.

  •  Arthur P. Davis, Director of the U. S. Reclamation Service in 1918, proposed the concept of controlling the Colorado River through the building of a dam in Boulder or Black Canyons between the Arizona-Nevada borders.  He envisioned the possibility of power as an aid to enterprise, and he proposed a dam of unprecedented height and a reservoir of unprecedented capability.
  • Frank T. Crowe, general superintendent of Six Companies Incorporated, was responsible for carrying through the details of the contract.  A veteran dam builder, this was Crowe’s biggest challenge.
  • S. R. DeBoer, landscape architect from Denver, Colorado, was commissioned to design Boulder City.  His original plan to have a “garden city” was looked upon with derision, but later implemented in 1932 by landscaper William Weed.

Visitors to the Hoover Dam view monuments on the Nevada side honoring the dam’s designers, builders, and workers.  Etched onto the stone base of the American flag is the following dedication quote:

 “It is fitting that the flag of our country should fly here in honor of those men who, inspired by a vision of lonely lands made fruitful, conceived this great work and of those others whose genius and labor made that vision a reality.”

I’d be interested to know if you agree with the Hoover Dam as an example of creativity, innovation and vision.  And – what are your examples of these three “leadership elements” at work?


  • The Story of the Hoover Dam.  Booklets compiled from Compressed Air Magazine, 1931-1935.  Las Vegas, Nevada:  Nevada Publications.

2 Comments on “Hoover Dam: A Study in Creativity, Innovation, and Vision”

  1. Lisa McAbee says:

    Good stuff, Susan. Thank you for helping me become a better leader!!

  2. Thank you, Lisa. I believe we both become better leaders through our collaboration. I look forward to future partnering!

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