Boulder Dam or Hoover Dam?

Boulder Canyon Project

When the initial surveys were done to determine the placement of the dam, most agreed that Boulder Canyon would be ideal because of its granite foundation. It was thought that the narrower pass of Black Canyon, made from volcanic deposits, wasn't nearly as strong. However, too many faults were discovered in Boulder Canyon and Black Canyon was eventually chosen for the construction of the dam. Unfortunately, it was too late to disassociate the name Boulder Canyon from the project, and it stuck, even though the dam was built in Black Canyon.

Boulder Dam vs. Hoover Dam

Boulder Dam became the unofficial name of the dam because of the name of the project. When work on the dam began in 1930 with the completion of the railroad connecting Black Canyon to Las Vegas, Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur officially named the dam after President Hoover. It was clearly a political move, however, and most people in the area continued to call it Boulder Dam.

Before the completion of the dam, a new president was in office. Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, changed the name back to Boulder Dam, a direct affront to Herbert Hoover by the Roosevelt administration. Popular support for the name Boulder Dam was strong. Not only had residents and workers grown accustomed to it, but the name Hoover also had many negative connotations because his administration coincided with the onset of the Depression.

This was not the end of the competition between Hoover Dam and Boulder Dam. The name Boulder Dam stuck until 1947 when Harry Truman approved a congressional act to rename it, once again, Hoover Dam.

The Dam Today

It is not surprising that the name Boulder Dam lives on. The name of the worker’s city is Boulder City and the highway leading from Las Vegas to Boulder City is called Boulder Highway. Former dam workers often refer to it as Boulder Dam and the occasional tourist has been known to say, "I’ve seen Hoover Dam. But where is this Boulder Dam I keep hearing about?"