Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

Photo by Lizzie Gerecitano

The Art & History of Hoover Dam

Shaka Guide

Listen to audio story here:

We’ll be on Route 11 for about six minutes. This may seem like a lot of highway driving, but after this last stretch, it’ll open up to some amazing natural beauty. And, we’ll be taking “the scenic route” back into Las Vegas later, so we’ll soon say adios to highways.

Are you looking forward to seeing Hoover Dam up close? It was the very first of more than 57,000 large dams built around the world! A large dam, is anything over 15 meters, or nearly 50 feet tall. Then, there are major dams, which stand at over 150 meters, or nearly 500 feet. And Hoover Dam is definitely a major dam. Over seven-million people visit this national historic landmark every year. The American Society of Civil Engineers calls it, one of the country’s great engineering wonders.

The dam was built in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, when thousands of men needed employment. So, many of them took jobs building the dam, despite the risks that came with taming the Colorado river… A job many thought impossible. 

When we reach Hoover Dam, you may be surprised to see several large works of art on display. 

The largest monument at the dam is called The Winged Figures of the Republic. It was sculpted by Oskar J.W. Hansen, and ya can’t miss it. It’s a tall flagpole flanked by two winged figures. Hansen called this piece, a testament to those who were bold and daring enough to construct the dam. And, he compared their hard work to those who built the great pyramids of Egypt. You’ll probably want a photo or two of that.

Hansen also designed the plaque commemorating the 96 men who died during the construction of Hoover Dam. It says “They died to make the desert bloom.” But, while 96 might be the official death toll, many believe the real number to be much higher. We’ll talk more about that later.

Near the entrance to the Hoover Dam Cafe, you’ll find Steven Ligouri’s large bronze sculpture, called High Scaler. This is an incredible depiction of the scariest construction job at the dam. High Scalers put their lives on the line every single day. These brave souls would hang hundreds of feet in the air, off the side of a deep canyon, knocking away loose rock, and setting dynamite charges. This sculpture, was made in the likeness of the last surviving High Scaler, Joe Kine. 

Even the Hoover Dam towers feature special engravings. The Nevada Elevator Tower has five, representing the five reasons Hoover Dam was built: Flood control, navigation, irrigation, water storage, and power. 

On the Arizona Elevator Tower, you can see five different engravings, in tribute to the Native American tribes who inhabited the area long ago. 

Oh, and keep your eyes out for the doggie plaque, because it’s one of my favorite stories. I’ll tell you that one soon. You’ll find the plaque near the top of the escalators that lead down to the exhibits.

OK, now that you’ve gotten your art lesson for the day, get ready to take exit 15 B for Business Route 93 East, Boulder City Parkway.

Want to see it all for yourself? Check out our Hoover Dam and Lake Mead tour!


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