Hoover Dam Quesion

Could Hoover Dam have been built if not for the unemployed as a result of the Great Depression?

We’re visiting Las Vegas this week and we decided to rent a car and visit Hoover Dam, which was well worth it in my opinion. But something struck me as we were touring the dam itself. It took thousands of men who were willing to work for $4 a day in order to build the dam in only a few years. There wasn’t a large local population to draw from so workers came from all parts of the US. The dam was built during the height of the Great Depression, so there was a large nationwide pool of unemployed people who were desperate for any job they could find.

Had the dam been built during the 1920’s, or the 1950’s, would there have been enough people to do the work, or did they need a depression to attract the workforce they needed to tackle a project this large?

Mods: This may wander into IMHO territory so feel free to move if appropriate.

The project was already funded and in the design phase when the depression hit, so presumably they thought it was feasible in pre-depression economic times. Perhaps it would of been some half-cocked government scheme if not for the depression and FDR, but who knows. Also, the wages at the project would have actually been pretty good even before the depression, so I don’t think the project would have been impossible without the depression labor market. The depression was probably why many times more workers than needed descended on the area, which might have had an effect on the contractor’s willingness to improve working conditions (which were pretty bad) and deal with unions.

I’d also point out that, though most of the big ones were made during the depression, the vast majority of the dams in the western US were built in the post-war period through the 70’s. They weren’t the wonders of the world like Hoover and Grand Coulee, but there were still some big ones built (like the Hungry Horse Dam up the road from you). Dam building is certainly labor intensive, but it was also highly mechanized in the 30’s and onwards and so the availability of skilled and semi-skilled labor was more important than the ability to draft vast armies of unskilled laborers. Also consider that the Interstates, while less grandiose, were the real crowning achievment of the US’s mid-century infrastructure projects and those were built almost entirely after the war.

The Pentagonwas built in 16 months at the start of World War 2, and had more than 14,000 peopleworking on it. That was during the biggest mobilization of men in U.S. history.