Las Vegas Photographer Dave ProctorHoover Damn officially turns 75 today.

On the day of Hoover Dam’s dedication some 10,000 plus people gathered on top of the dam to hear President Roosevelt speech on the greatest feat of mankind. That day was Sept. 30, 1935,  back then it was  known as Boulder Damn, the name was changed to Hoover Dam in 1947.

Did you know that people have been wanting the dam tore down for years?  Yup! A battle to tear down dams, including Hoover Dam is being fought out in United States courts by lawyers, lobbyists, volunteers and eco-friendly scientists. Now the Vegas odds of it happening are like, 1 in a trillion galliziion or something like that, but believe it or not, people are really putting money into trying to get this to happen.  <headdesk>



Construction stated on the dam in 1931, it was a 6 year project that only actually took 5 years to complete. Try that nowadays, think about that for a second. Today some say if you would build the same dam today it would never be built. And if it was it would take over 50 years to complete the project. Between all the studies, planning, protesting, court cases and everything else, I tend to believe it.  Back then, people decided that they wanted to do something and then they did it. Simple.

Hoover Dam is what they call an arch-gravity dam, that means it pretty much just sits there and the shape and weight of it holds it in place like a plug wedged into your bathtub drain, or in this case, a giant plug wedged into Black Canyon.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Copyright Code.
Circa 1934 *

Have you ever wondered what it used to look like before they built the Dam?

River view of the eventual site of Hoover Dam, circa 1904 *


I won’t get into all the boring details about the Dam like how much it weighs, 6.6 million tons, or the fact it cost 49 million dollars to build in 1933 currency, that’s about galliziion  dollars today figuring the average person that worked on the Dam back in the 30’s made 0.50 cents a day. However I will touch on a few things that most people don’t know about it or think wrong about.

High Scalers at work Circa 1933 *

Hard Hats

Did you know that the invention of the Hard Hat was due to the guys that blasted rock on the sides of Black Canyon preparing the canyon walls for the construction of the Dam?

Since the dam was a arch-gravity type, the side-walls of the canyon would bear the force of the lake. All the loose rock would have to be removed to create a strong seal. The men that removed this rock were called “high scalers”. These high scalers were suspended from the top of the canyon with ropes, high-scalers climbed down the canyon walls and removed the loose rock with jackhammers and dynamite.

To protect themselves against falling objects, the number one cause of death while working on the Dam, some high scalers took cloth hats and dipped them in tar, allowing them to harden. When workers wearing such headgear were struck hard enough to inflict broken jaws, but sustained no skull damage, Six Companies, that’s the name of the main company that built the Dam, ordered thousands of what initially were called “hard boiled hats” (later hard hats) and strongly encouraged their use. Now you know…

The Dam of death.

Many people who visit Hoover Dam ask, How many people died building the dam?

There is no correct answer to this one, officially the total is 96 people however others have died due to accidents there but later died away from the Dam site so they were not counted in this total.

Also not counted in the 96 number were the people that died of Heart Attacks, Heat Stroke, etc, working at the Dam.

Most deaths were from such causes as drowning, blasting, falling rocks or slides, falls from the canyon walls, being struck by heavy equipment, truck accidents, etc.

Is Hoover Dam haunted?

Spooky haunted tunnel… Circa 2002 DAP

Personally, I have never experienced anything supernatural at the dam, but there were stories among the workers about seeing a man dressed in old-fashioned work clothes, usually in an area where he shouldn’t be, and when he is challenged the man just disappears. Another popular story concerns footsteps echoing through the corridors on the concrete floors, with no one in sight to make them. I guess this is the reason they now drug test the workers there…

From what I hear, the most haunted location of the dam is near the canyon wall just across from the escalator for some reason ghosts tend to hang out there a lot, tearful blubbering something about a dog and cursing truck drivers. This actually freaked me out because, well, I know the rest of the story and I like dogs and also raspberry iced tea but that’s besides the point.

How many of those are buried in the concrete?

None! No one is buried in Hoover Dam.

The dam was built in interlocking blocks. Each block is five feet high. The smallest blocks were about 25 feet by 25 feet square, and the largest blocks were about 25 feet by 60 feet. Concrete was delivered to each block in buckets, eight cubic yards at a time. After each bucket was delivered, five or six men called “puddlers” would stamp and vibrate the concrete into place, packing it down to ensure there were no air pockets in it. Each time a bucket was emptied, the level of concrete would raise from two inches up to six inches, depending on the size of the block. With only a slight increase in the level at any one time, and the presence of several men watching the placement, it would have been virtually impossible for anyone to be buried in the concrete. So, there are no bodies buried in Hoover Dam.

Photo of Nig courtesy of UNLV digital Collections

The Dam Dog:

Nig attracted the attention of the workers and was adopted by them.  He was partial to none, and became known as “nobody’s dog and everybody’s dog.”  He had free run of Boulder City and the dam site.  After being taken to the dam one day by one of the workers, Nig soon learned to join the crews whenever he desired by hopping aboard one of the transports carrying the men to the dam.  There he would stay as long as he pleased, and would return to Boulder City when the shift was over. So the story goes, one day he was at the dam and wanted to return  to the city earlier than usual. He recognized the big Buick driven by Frank Crowe, (one of the big wigs) let out a bark, and was last seen sitting in the passenger seat as Crowe drove his sedan back to town.  Nig inspected dam operations each day.  As the dam rose higher, he would hop on one of the skips (a small wooden platform suspended from the cable system that delivered men and equipment down into the canyon).  When he wanted to board a skip, he would give his characteristic bark, and the operators always stopped for him.  He would then hop aboard and bark again at the level of the dam where he wanted to disembark.

Everyone wanted to feed the dog, and being a dog, he seldom refused. Once a dam worker shared some candy bars with him, after which Nig became quite ill.  Nig was taken to the local MD/Vet for treatment. After he recovered, it was advised that his diet should be carefully scrutinized, so arrangements were made with the mess hall for lunch to be prepared each day especially for Nig. Then word went out not to feed the dog any more sweets, and an ad was placed in the local newspaper:

“I love candy, but it makes me sick. it also is bad for  my coat.  Please don’t feed me any more.   Your friend, the Hoover Dam Mascot ”

The mess hall packed Nig’s lunch each day in a special container and the dog soon learned to carry it in his mouth when he boarded the transport truck to go to the dam. At the construction site, he placed the sack alongside the worker’s lunch pails and would not eat it until the whistle blew for his crew to break for a meal. The workers paid for Nig’s meals. The contributions were so plentiful that a bank account was established for Nig. The extra funds were also used to pay for his other needs, including a silver collar.

After the dam was completed, Nig continued to make his rounds at the dam, and would insist that the tourists followed the rules. On February 21,1941, Nig decided to take a nap in a spot of shade under a truck. The driver failed to notice the sleeping dog when he returned to the vehicle and drove off. By the time that the driver felt the crunching of bones and Nig’s banshee wail of pain, it was too late.  News of the fatal accident was phoned to town and it was said to have been the saddest afternoon Boulder City has ever experienced.  Many of the workers wept openly as they prepared a place for Nig’s eternal rest at the edge of the cliff overlooking the dam. A concrete slab with the inscription “NIG” was placed over the grave site. Nig could thus continue his oversight of the daily activities at the dam.

But that was not to be the last to be heard of Nig. Many years later, a visitor to the dam felt that the inscription on the grave stone “NIG” was racist, and he campaigned to have the inscription removed. The issue hit  the national press and finally the Bureau of Reclamation chiefs ordered that the name be removed.  Later, the locals insisted on some kind of recognition for Nig and a plaque was placed on the canyon wall above the plain concrete slab. It identifies Nig as the mascot of the dam builders, but does not mention his name.

Just more history lost due to someone that can’t accept things as they once was. Times have changed but history stays the same, even if it is forgotten history.

Today, Nig’s grave site and plaque can be found just across the road from the escalator leading to the new tour center.  It is located in a shallow niche in the canyon wall and is easily missed by the tourists awestruck by the magnificence of the dam. Now that you know the story of Nig, next time you visit the dam, take a moment and stop by Nig’s final resting place. Most people pass it right by unaware of the importance of Nig, the Mascot of Hoover Dam.


Boulder City, formerly the town where dam workers were housed, still does not allow gambling within town limits, a regulation imposed in the 1930s. Boulder City is the only town in Nevada to prohibit gambling.

Hoover Dam is 726 ft. tall. That is 171 ft. taller than the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. and twice as tall as the Luxor Casino (338 ft.) in Las Vegas.

At its base, Hoover Dam is as thick (660 ft.) as two footballs fields measured end-to-end.

As many as 20,000 vehicles a day drive across the 45 ft. wide top of the dam between Nevada and Arizona.

There is enough concrete in Hoover Dam (4 1/2 million cubic yards) to build a 2 lane road from Seattle, Washington to Miami, Florida or a 4 ft. wide sidewalk around the Earth at the Equator.

During peak electricity periods, enough water runs through the generators to fill 15 average sized swimming pools (20,000 gallons each) in 1 second.

Each of the 30 ft. wide penstocks (water pipes) can carry enough water to fill 900 bath tubs (100 gallons each) in 1 second, or 960,000 (12 oz.) cans of drink in 1 second.

Hoover Dam is shaped like a huge curved axe head, 45 ft. wide at the top and 660 ft. thick at the bottom.

Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the USA and contains enough water to flood the entire state of New York with 1 ft. of water (26 million acre ft.).

If you drink water from the tap at Disneyland, Anaheim or Sea World in San Diego — that water is coming from the Colorado River and Lake Mead, 300 miles away.

Each of the 17 generators can supply electricity to 100,000 households.

When operating at full power, the 17 generators can supply all the electricity needed by a city of 750,000 people.

Each generator weights (4 million pounds) as much as 4 1/2 fully loaded Boeing 747-400’s.

The Colorado River is more than 1,400 miles long and supplies water to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix. Las Vegas gets almost all its water from Lake Mead. Lake Mead was made by Hoover Dam when it blocked the Colorado River and flooded the Mojave Desert.

Between 1931 and 1936 when the dam was built, 96 men were killed in industrial accidents. None were buried in the concrete.

The mascot dog and favorite pet of all the construction workers during the building of the dam was buried at Hoover Dam. The grave is near the Hoover Dam Tour Center and can be visited. (but if you got this far you already knew that)

It would take $2,000,000 worth of copper pennies to make the copper buses (4 inch in diameter hollow square wires) that carry electricity inside the powerhouse.

Every state in the USA furnished supplies and materials for the construction of the dam.

More than 8.5 million pounds of dynamite was used to blast the foundation for the dam and 8 miles of tunnels through the canyon walls.

There are 2700 miles of transmission lines sending electricity from Hoover Dam to Los Angeles.

Ruins at St Thomas Nevada *

The town of St. Thomas is normally underwater when Lake Mead is full but now with the water level so low you can walk the streets of this ghost town without even getting your feet wet. This is only the 3rd time since Hoover Dam was built that St. Thomas has been out of the water and accessible.

  • Public domain images courtesy of United States Geological Survey, United States Department of Interior & UNLV Digital Collections.
  • Other images copyrighted by Las Vegas Photographer Dave Proctor
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