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These Photographs Of The Construction Of The Hoover Dam Are Absolutely Mindblowing

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It took five years and the lives of 112 men, and you won’t believe how they did it.

Whenever I see a dam I’m always fascinated by how they managed to get built, because they’re always massive, they’re always really old and they always seem to have a hell of a lot of water on one side of them. How in the heck did anyone manage to build them?

Well, in the case of the Hoover Dam I might have some of the answers now, finally. The process took five years from 1931 – 1936 and several years of planning beforehand. It turns out they diverted the course of the river first by building three mile long diversion tunnels either side of it and then building huge berms or ‘cofferdams’ above and below the site.

Once they were installed the bedrock and walls of the riverbed were cleared of loose rock to ensure that they were solid and able to hold the volume of water that would be stored there effectively without any danger of anything bursting. When that stage had been completed the workers then started to pour concrete into rectangular plots called ‘lifts’. These were cooled through pipes filled with ice cold water and made up the bulk of the dam.

By the time the dam was completed in 1936, 3.25 million miles of concrete had been laid out and 112 people had died during the construction of the dam. Nevertheless, it remains standing and remains one of the greatest man made creations in the world – and still provides hydroelectric power for much of the area surrounding it.

This was obviously a highly simplified version of the story behind its construction, but a picture can speak 1000 words so why not peruse the gallery below and get a better idea of the blood sweat and tears that went into this fantastic creation.

An inspection party near the proposed site of the Hoover Dam (aka Boulder Dam) in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, circa 1928. (Photo by Keystone/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ca. 1931-1936, Boulder City, Nevada, USA --- A surveyor waves his cowboy hat as a signal to fellow workers at Boulder Dam. Now called Hoover Dam, it is one of the world's largest dams, holding back the waters of the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada to create power and Lake Mead. Nevada. --- Image by © CORBIS

12 May 1933, USA --- Original caption: Near Las Vegas: 4-Ton Dynamite Blast Set Off At Hoover Dam Site. A mountain of dirt and rock rises skyward after a four ton dynamite blast was set off, marking the last "big shot" before construction of Hoover Dam proper begins near Las Vegas, Nevada. The explosives were detonated from 3,000 drill holes honeycombing the section of earth to be moved, a rock ledge on the lower canyon walls selected as the site for power houses. The roar of the explosion echoed through the walls of Black Canyon for 15 minutes. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1933, Boulder City, Nevada, USA --- Original caption: 1933-Boulder City, CO- Picture shows a view of a bridge crossing at the Boulder Dam (known now as the Hoover Dam). --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1933, Boulder City, Nevada, USA --- Original caption: 1933-Boulder City, CO- Picture shows dump trucks driving along the side of a mountain where men on working on construcing the Boulder Dam (known now as thew Hoover Dam).--- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1933, Boulder City, Nevada, USA --- Original caption: 1933-Boulder City, CO- Picture shows an aerial view of mass construction of the Boulder Dam (known now as the Hoover Dam). --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

ca. 1935, Boulder City, Nevada, USA --- Shaving the walls of Black Canyon, 550 feet above the mighty Boulder Dam. --- Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

1934 --- Contruction workers rappel down cliff face dw-1934-12-08-70~09 --- Image by © Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis

11 Sep 1933, Boulder, Colorado, USA --- Original caption: Progress of Boulder Dam construction. Striking scenes of the progress of the construction work on Boulder Dam. This photo shows the concrete and steel foundation of the dam. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

circa 1936: The Boulder Dam on the Colorado River under construction. A cable railway runs over it. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

1934 --- Concrete conveyance dw-1934-412-08-67~37 --- Image by © Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis

1934 --- Concrete being dumper from conveyer dw-1934-412-08-67~35 --- Image by © Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis

19 Sep 1933, Boulder, Colorado, USA --- Original caption: At Boulder Dam. Mayor Frank L. Shaw of Los Angeles and a party of newspapermen returned recently from a three day inspection tour of Boulder Dam and construction camps along the route of the city's $22,800,000 electric transmission line. The line will extend from Los Angeles to the Boulder Dam power plant on the Colorado River. This photo shows a close up view of the dam construction. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1934, Boulder City, Nevada, USA --- Construction continues atop Boulder Dam. Now called Hoover Dam, it is one of the world's largest dams, holding back the waters of the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada to create power and Lake Mead. Nevada. --- Image by © CORBIS

1934 --- dw-1934-412-08-67~06 --- Image by © Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis

1934 --- Two men looking at huge pipes for the Hoover Dam dw-1934-412-08-67~08 --- Image by © Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis

1934 --- dw-1934-412-08-67~03 --- Image by © Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis

1934 --- Hoover dam vent towers during construction dw-1934-12-08-70~10 --- Image by © Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis

30 Jan 1935 --- Original caption: First of the gigantic hydroelectric generators for Boulder dam. The 19 student engineers representing 15 different universities at the Schenectady works of the general electric company, where the 82,500 KVA. unit was built, are shown atop the world's largest". Weighing two million pounds, the generator must be taken apart and shipped to Black Canyonj on 45 freight cars. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Hoover Dam 23

October 1935, Boulder, Colorado, USA --- Front View of the Boulder Dam --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1935: Aerial view of the construction of the Boulder Dam, renamed the Hoover Dam in 1947, shortly before its completion, Nevada. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ca. 1935 --- Original caption: President Roosevelt, high up on one side of the huge Boulder Dam at Boulder City, Nevada, points to one feature of the mighty structure, and asks a question. Walker Young, the engineer in charge of the project conducted the Chief Executive on a tour of the dam, after which Roosevelt made a dedication address, during which he pointed out that federal spending had given the nation useful works such as this one, and had started the wheels of private industry turning. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

12 Sep 1936, USA --- Original caption: 9/12/1936-Boulder Dam, AZ/NV- An electrical impulse released by President Roosevelt pressing a button across the continent sent 3,600,000 cubic feet of water a minute tumbling through Gigantic Boulder Dam, and put the Colorado River to work generating electrical power. This photo made by Albert Kopec from a Richfield Oil Company plane, shows the Niagara of water from the 12 outlets; six on the Nevada side and six on the Arizona side. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1940, Arizona, USA --- Men take in the view of the Boulder Dam and Lake Mead from the Nevada side of the Colorado River. | Location: Border of Arizona and Colorado, USA. --- Image by © Schenectady Museum; Hall of Electrical History Foundation/CORBIS

If you enjoyed that then check out this video of a 57 storey building being built in 19 days over in China. Rapid.


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