At least 96 workers lost their lives during the construction of Hoover Dam


Hoover Dam is a colossal hydroelectric dam on the Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. The dam is not listed among the world’s largest dams, but it is certainly among the tallest, with its heavy concrete walls being 222 meters high.

The dam was built during the Great Depression and was initially known as Boulder Dam. The construction started in 1931 and ended in 1936.

Hoover Dam releasing water from the jet-flow gates in 1998.

The place where the dam was built was chosen because it proved to be the perfect spot for a hydroelectric power plant, and it would ensure the best control of flood and irrigation waters. Over the course of the dam’s construction, thousands of people were employed on the project, and the construction site became notorious because an unusually high number of workers were killed during construction.

Workers on a “Jumbo Rig”; used for drilling Hoover Dam’s tunnels.

The official number of dead workers is 96, but some historians estimate the number to be as high as 120, as official records didn’t list the number of people that died off-site from injuries they sustained at work.

The site where the dam was being built was surrounded by dangerous steep terrain, and the on-site security measures were not nearly as rigorous as they are today.

Looking down at “high scalers” above the Colorado River.

Most of the unfortunate workers that were killed while building the dam were either struck by falling material, crushed by heavy machinery, or accidentally fell from the dam into the river or into the wet concrete.

Some of the other causes of death included heat prostration and mishandling of industrial explosives. In addition, several people committed suicide by jumping off the dam. After the dam was finally built, many people believed that a number of workers remained buried deep under the heavy layers of concrete.

Oskar J. W. Hansen’s memorial for the workers that died during the construction of the dam. Part of the memorial reads “They died to make the desert bloom.” PhotoCredit

The issue of workers that were supposedly buried under the layers of concrete of the dam was one of the themes in a popular song “Highwayman”, written by the American singer-songwriter Jimmy Web.

That song was the main inspiration for the name of the supergroup “The Highwaymen”, which consisted of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson. However, no bodies are buried under the heavy layers of concrete at Hoover Dam.

Water enters the Arizona spillway (left) during the 1983 floods. Lake Mead water level was 1,225.6 ft (373.6 m).

All the workers who lost their lives by falling into the wet concrete were successfully pulled out and given proper burials.

Read another story from us: A photographic journey of the construction of the Woolworth Building, New York

Nowadays the dam is a big tourist attraction; it is visited by almost a million people every year. It is also a vital part of the economic infrastructure of the United States, as it provides power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California.