Historical Outlook on its Construction
list of modern day construction projects that demonstrate a construction company's
ingenuity and creativity may very well begin with The Hoover Dam.
Dam was built by a construction company called Six Companies Inc, which was actually
a consortium of several companies: Morrison-Knudsen Co., Utah Construction Co.,
J. F. Shea Co., Pacific Bridge Co., MacDonald & Kahn Ltd. and a joint venture
of W. A. Bechtel Co., Henry J. Kaiser, and Warren Brothers. The reason these construction
companies got together was simple: no single construction company could raise
the $5 million needed to secure the performance bond.
A number of construction
companies were interested in the job. After all, this was a historical project
of great significance, as well as an incredible challenge. It soon became obvious,
though, that no one company would be able to handle a project of this magnitude.
Even the very biggest construction companies in that day had neither the capital
nor the resources to take on such a job.
Harry Morrison, president of Morrison-Knudson
Co., approached San Francisco banker Leland Cutler to seek financial backing for
Morrison-Knudsen Co. for the Hoover Dam project. Cutler refused because he didn't
think any one company could raise the $5 million bond that was necessary, but
he did give Morrison the names of several other construction companies who might
be interested in a joint venture. Morrison quickly realized the only way to get
the Hoover Dam built was for several companies to join together, and he organized
the Six Companies consortium.
At that time, the leading dam builder in the
United States was Frank T. Crowe, a former Department of Reclamation superintendent.
Crowe had spent twenty years working for the Department of Reclamation, as well
as private construction companies. He had helped to build Arrowrock Dam in Idaho,
the Jackson Lake Dam in Wyoming and Washington's Tieton Dam. Crowe had also developed
a cableway system of delivering concrete and moving equipment that was far more
advanced than any other system of its time.
Everything Crowe had ever done
during his career helped prepare him for the building of Hoover Dam, which would
be the biggest challenge of his life. Crowe aided Reclamation Commissioner Arthur
Powell Davis in developing a cost estimate for a dam on the lower Colorado River
as early as 1919 and also helped with the preliminary design in 1924.
to 1925, when the Reclamation Service (which later became the Department of Reclamation)
wanted to build a dam, the government did the project itself. In 1925, the government
began contracting such projects out. Frank Crowe wanted very badly to work on
the Hoover Dam; in fact, it had been a dream of his for a very long time. And
now that the Reclamation Service had changed its way of doing business, Crowe
had to choose between staying in his government job or working on the Hoover Dam.
To work on off the Hoover Dam project, Crowe would be forced to leave his job
and team up with a construction company. Crowe decided to join Morrison-Knudsen
Co., and was instrumental in persuading Morrison to organize Six Companies.
Crowe had two decades of experience and had worked on the project's cost estimate
for the government, he knew what went into the calculations the government used
to develop their estimates. Morrison gathered together the construction companies
that would make up Six Companies, made Crowe construction superintendent and won
the contract on March 4, 1931. Six Companies bid $48.9 million for the project,
a bid that was just $24,000 higher than the Department of the Interior had budgeted
for the project and $10 million lower than the next lowest bid. At the time, this
was the largest single contract the United States government had ever awarded.
In today's dollars, that bid would be more than $577 million.
Delivered Comprensive Construction Expertise
member of the Six Companies consortium brought a special expertise to the table.
The Wattis Brothers of Utah Construction were well known for their expertise in
building the early railroads in the western United States and Mexico. The JF Shea
Company had started out as a plumbing business and was experienced in tunnel building
and other underground work. Charles Shea knew people at the Pacific Bridge Company,
and he convinced them to bring their expertise and capital to the project. Felix
Kahn of San Francisco's MacDonald and Kahn had built a number of large buildings
in San Francisco and contributed $1 million to the project. Henry Kaiser and Warren
Bechtel were experienced in road building.
Word of the Hoover Dam project
spread quickly, and Six Companies quickly received more than 2,400 job applications
and over 12,000 letters of inquiry about jobs. This was during the Depression.
Times were tough and many people desperately needed work. Workers flocked to the
building area from all over country, more than 5,000 in all. Many brought their
wives and children and lived in tents. With poor sanitation, little access to
clean water, 119-degree heat and no utilities, this tent community was a living
hell. Six Companies realized that these people would be here for years and something
had to change. Along with the Reclamation Service and under Frank Crowe's guidance,
Six Companies built Boulder City. Electricity was brought in, and a school, churches,
post office, library, newspaper and stores were built.
on the dam could start, a monumental task was at hand. The construction companies
had to divert the Colorado River away from the project's foundation site, and
this could only happen during the winter. Crowe decided this needed to be done
during the winter of 1932-33. Work on the tunnels began in May 1931. For 24 hours
a day, seven days a week four tunnels, two on each side, were built right through
the rock walls of the canyon. Each tunnel was 4,000 feet long, 56 feet in diameter,
and lined with three feet of concrete, making them the second largest tunnels
The diversionary tunnels had to be built in the summer in order
to be ready to divert the river in the winter. Conditions in the tunnels were
brutal, with temperatures inside reaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit. As many as four
workers died from heat prostration each week. To make matters worse, Six Companies
used gasoline-powered trucks in the tunnel, something that had never been done
before in underground mining, so carbon monoxide was added to the heat, dust,
and fumes from the blasting.
Crowe was a mechanical genius, something he
had proven time and time again on his previous dam projects. He conceived of many
new inventions during the course of building Hoover Dam, one of which occurred
during the building of the diversionary tunnels. He came up with a drilling jumbo,
four platforms welded to a truck that carried 30 rock drills. This enabled construction
workers to complete the tunnels and cofferdams by April 1932, a full year ahead
of schedule. Construction on the dam base could now begin.
order for Six Companies to recover its initial $5 million investment, it gave
high prices for the work done in the diversion phase and lower prices for subsequent
work. But in order for this to work, Frank Crowe had to place the 3.4 million
cubic yards of concrete necessary to complete the dam for only $2.70 per yard,
a price that was 35% lower than the price of the second lowest bidder. Further,
Six Companies had agreed to a $3,000 per day penalty for every day the project
went over schedule, so it was imperative that everything go according to plan.
Crowe overcame these challenges magnificently. Not only was he able to get the
concrete into place at the right price, he also did it ahead of schedule.
base of the Hoover Dam, as with any dam, was the most important part of the structure.
If the base wasn't built correctly, to there could be numerous potential problems
with the rest of the structure. Construction workers had to use power shovels
to dig through more than half-million cubic yards of river bottom mud to reach
the bedrock 40 feet below, making the total excavation 125 feet, with grouting
as deep as 150 feet. Simultaneously, high scalers blasted the canyon walls with
jackhammers to make a smooth surface for the dam's construction. These scalers
earned $5.60 a day and were some of the highest paid workers on the job.
June 6, 1933, two years after Six Companies won the contract, they started pouring
the concrete for the dam's base. In order to allow the concrete to dry properly
and not crack during the process, construction workers had to pour 230 individual
blocks of concrete for the base. All in all, 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete
were used for the base, enough concrete to pave a highway 16 feet wide from New
York to San Francisco.
The first eight-cubic-yard bottom-dump bucket of
concrete went into the dam 18 months ahead of schedule. The dam's great mass of
concrete was stripped of heat by pumping refrigerated water through 590 miles
of pipe placed in the concrete as it was poured. The four 395-foot intake towers
were taller than most buildings. The powerhouse's two 230-foot-high wings were
designed to house 17 generating units. When construction was complete in 1935,
the diversionary tunnels were closed, and the filling of Lake Mead began.
Construction Project Completed
in all, Hoover Dam stood 725 feet high, is 1244 feet wide, 660 feet thick at the
base, tapering to a thickness of 45 feet at the top. It cost a total of $165 million
to build and was completed in four and a half years. The project was begun in
March 1931 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated it on September 30, 1935.
First power was produced in October 1936, more than two years ahead of schedule.
A total of 4.4 million yards of concrete were used in its construction. The powerhouse
used 17 generators in 10 acres of floor space to produce over 4 billion kilowatt-hours
for California, Nevada, and Arizona.
The name of the dam has changed several
times. Early in the construction process, surveyors thought the dam should be
built at Boulder Canyon because of its granite floor, and the dam was to be called
Boulder Dam. It was later determined that Black Canyon was a more suitable site
since a dam in this location would not have to be quite as high, but the name
was left as Boulder Dam. During the strike-driving ceremony on September 17, 1930,
Secretary of the Interior Ray L. Wilbur named the dam Hoover Dam in honor of President
Herbert Hoover, which came as a great surprise to everyone. In 1933 voters elected
Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, and his Secretary of the Interior
Harold Ickes changed the name back to Boulder Dam. Fourteen years later, a joint
resolution of Congress changed the name back to Hoover Dam.
accomplished a historic feat, working together to build the Hoover Dam. The construction
companies that made up the consortium went their separate ways after the Hoover
Dam project, and accomplished a variety of successful projects afterwards.
- Morrison-Knudsen Company president Henry Morrison appeared on the cover of
Time Magazine in 1954, his company having grown to one of the largest construction
and engineering companies in the world. The company was involved with many construction
projects, including the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Morrison died in 1971. In 1996
Morrison-Knudesen Company was acquired by Washington Group International.
Utah Construction Company diversified into commercial, residential and military
construction, as well as mining, in the 1950s. The company changed its name in
1971 to Utah International, Inc. and entered into a $2.3 billion merger with General
Electric in 1976.
- J.F. Shea helped to build the Grand Coulee Dam, the
Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system and the Washington,
D.C., subway system. The company is still in business today. It builds planned
communities and is a civil engineering, electrical and construction contractor,
as well as a supplier of aggregate materials to contractors. The company also
manufactures concrete-placing equipment for civil engineering projects.
Pacific Bridge Company went back to building bridges, including the Tacoma Narrows
Bridges. The company also worked with Morrison-Knudsen Company on the salvage
project after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
- Bechtel has completed more
than 22,000 projects in 140 countries, including the Channel Tunnel, Hong Kong
International Airport, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system
and the reconstruction of Kuwait's oil fields after the Gulf War.
Kaiser worked on the Grand Coulee Dam and the San Francisco Bay Bridge. In 1939
he founded Permanente, the largest cement plant in the world and joined with Todd
Shipbuilding Co. to build ships for the Merchant Marines.
- Warren Brothers
Paving, who had built the first modern asphalt facility in 1901 went on to pave
the Columbia River highway and worked on the Walden Pond demonstration project.
And what happened to Frank Crowe, the superintendent for the Hoover
Dam project? He made a $350,000 bonus at the completion of the Hoover Dam. After
that he went on to build four more dams in his life, but no other project would
match the scale and impact of the Hoover Dam.