Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Dam By Any Other Name

Magnet# 38:  Hoover Dam

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Mom

Back in 1930 on this very day, President Herbert Hoover's Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur first called what was supposed to be the Boulder Dam the Hoover Dam.  Most everyone in attendance at the spike driving ceremony that day was surprised by the move.  Unbeknownst to all, Wilbur set off a name battle that would not be resolved for nearly seventeen years. 

While it was traditional in those days to name dams after the Presidents who were in office while they were built, the dams were usually named at their completion, after the Presidents were no longer in office.  Wilbur's move marked a breach in etiquette.  However, considering Hoover had been involved with the project for some time, first as Secretary of Commerce, then as President, the name stuck.  Then, Congress made it official in 1931.  Some were hopeful the move would help Hoover in his reelection, reminding Americans the President was creating jobs during his time in office. Of course, he still lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt.  And that's when the trouble began.

FDR replaced Wilbur with Harold Ickes in March of 1933.  By May, the new Secretary of the Interior was making it clear he wanted the structure to be called the Boulder Dam.  Within a few years, all official records as well as promotional materials referenced the Boulder Dam.  The name Hoover Dam had pretty much been entirely wiped out of existence.  And when FDR himself called it the Boulder Dam during a 1935 dedication which was broadcast nationally by radio, it seemed all was over for the Hoover Dam.  But it was not so.  Ickes finally retired in 1946, after FDR had passed away.  Less than a year later, a California Congressman, Jack Anderson, submitted a resolution to bring back the name of Hoover Dam.  It passed Congress and President Truman signed it into law, making it official once and for all - and giving Ickes one less reason to be relaxed during his retirement.  Herbert Hoover was still alive then, although he publicly claimed the name had never been important to him.  However, he also expressed privately to a sponsor of the resolution how pleased he was that such an insult had been permanently undone.

Public reactions to this controversy have been a mixed bag.  To this day, some Roosevelt supporters still call it the Hoover Dam.  Back then, one person suggested it be called "Hoogivza Dam."  Personally, I was completely unaware of it until I started researching the Hoover Dam for this blog.  But I'm glad Herbert Hoover has one of the greatest megastructures in our country named after him.  I think, as many historians now say, he got a pretty raw deal in being blamed for the country's Great Depression.  That said, I believe FDR really did need to be President when he was.  Not having him in place might have been a severe detriment for the Allies during World War II.  As far as I'm concerned all's well-ended in this chapter of US history.


  1. Thanks for the history lesson. Even though I've been there several times, you're spin on the topic is most interesting.

  2. Thanks - maybe someday I'll be able to visit the Dam myself.