The Hoover Dam

by Marnanel Thurman

During the Great Depression, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the construction of the Hoover Dam, then the biggest dam in the world, at a cost of about fifty million dollars— over 800 million in today's money. It might seem odd at first sight to pour money into public works during a recession, but the dam provided more than hydroelectricity and water— it provided inspiration, and for thousands of workers it provided a regular paycheque. Tens of thousands more were kept in work at businesses where the pay was spent.

The original design for the dam was planned by the engineers, and was severely functional. For balance, the consortium engaged an architect, Gordon Kaufmann, and an artist, Allen True. Together they made the dam not just a useful artefact, not just an inspiration, but also a thing of beauty in the (then current) Art Deco style. True carried out anthropological research and based his work on ideas and patterns from nearby Native American nations. He included a floor with a star map accurate for the night of the dam's dedication ceremony, so that if one day a civilisation finds the dam but can't read our writing, their astronomers can still work out when it was built.

A floor pattern in the Hoover Dam