Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 1936:

FDR Dedicates Boulder -- Hoover -- Dam

On September 11, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt pressed a key in Washington, DC, to signal the startup of the Boulder Dam's first hydroelectric generator. It was the culmination of years of effort to dam the Colorado River, a herculean engineering feat still regarded with awe. FDR had not, however, been instrumental in the project. His predecessor, Herbert Hoover, had been -- as president, but especially during his stint as Secretary of Commerce in the mid-1920s.

Writing in the article "What's in a Name?" (2006), Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha noted: "On September 17, 1930, at a ceremony south of Las Vegas to celebrate the project’s start-up, President Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur concluded his speech by stating 'I have the honor to name this greatest project of all time—the Hoover Dam.' The announcement naming the dam after the sitting president, who had been involved in planning for the dam earlier in his career, drew only scattered applause with the nation sinking into its greatest economic depression. Some in attendance predicted that the proposed dam workers’ town would be named Wilbur City instead of Boulder City. The Washington Daily News, referring to the controversy in Congress over naming the dam, editorialized that 'we care not even a tinker's dam who calls it what, so long as it goes up pronto and does its job in the southwest.' A congressional act passed on February 14, 1931 made the name Hoover Dam official.

"By April 1931, work was underway in Black Canyon to build Hoover Dam. The construction proceeded ahead of schedule. The diversion tunnels around the dam site were opened in November 1932, shortly after Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover for the presidency of the United States. With a new president came a new Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, and a return to the name Boulder Dam.

"On May 8, 1933, in one of his first administrative acts, Secretary Ickes declared that henceforth the dam rising from the floor of Black Canyon would be called Boulder Dam and no longer Hoover Dam. Ickes claimed the name change would end the public confusion caused by his predecessor’s political decision to honor his boss, who Ickes argued had contributed virtually nothing to the project. Author Joseph Stevens, in his comprehensive work Hoover Dam An American Adventure (1988), states that Ickes’ claim that Hoover didn’t help in bringing the Boulder Canyon project to fruition was 'blatantly false' and 'it appeared that Ickes’ renaming of Hoover Dam was a political act, a mean-spirited attempt to shred the already tattered reputation of the former president, as well as an unsubtle snub to those who had supported him.' However, the name of the dam was never officially changed from 'Hoover'...

"On April 30, 1947, the name Hoover Dam was 'officially' restored by a joint resolution of a Republican-dominated Congress and signed by President Harry S Truman, a Democrat. Former President Hoover in a private communication to one of the resolution’s sponsors expressed his gratitude that an insult had been rectified. Still, many Roosevelt partisans continued to call the great concrete edifice Boulder Dam and still do. Public reaction to the controversy was colorfully articulated by Frank Romano Sr. who proposed, in a May 10, 1947, letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that the name be changed a third time to "Hoogivza Dam."

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