The Controversy Surrounding The Naming Of The Hoover Dam

An explosion and fire were reported at Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, Nevada on July 19, 2022, based on reporting from CNN. Built in the 1930s, Hoover Dam helps provide power and water through man-made Lake Mead to millions of people across three southwestern states. The flames from the electrical transformer explosion and fire were extinguished before fire crews arrived. Although crisis was averted in this case, the incident underscores the importance of Hoover Dam to a number of large centers of population throughout the southwestern U.S.

There are also a number of controversies related to the Hoover Dam and its history, such as the environmental impact of the dam on nearby floodplains, species, and habitats (via Environment and Society). Another relates to the naming of the Depression-era project undertaken by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt to among other objectives help prevent flooding and provide power and water to a growing number of people living in the desert southwest at that time (via Britannica). Why then, is the Hoover Dam's namesake, Herbert Hoover, F.D.R. 's predecessor whom Roosevelt beat in the 1932 presidential election?

Prior to its official dedication the Hoover Dam was called by a few different names

As PBS notes, the Hoover Dam had a few different names prior to its official dedication as the Hoover Dam, including the Boulder Canyon Project, the Black Canyon Project, and finally, Boulder Dam. The official dedication of the dam came in 1935, a few years into F.D.R's first term as president and in the depths of the Great Depression. The Hoover Dam project was in part a form of economic stimulus during the Depression intended to create thousands of jobs for out-of-work Americans, as America's Library explains.

The truth of the matter is, though, some early planning stages of the Hoover Dam project began under Herbert Hoover, who was a successful engineer prior to his time in the presidency (via White House). The ribbon-cutting on the entire undertaking took place in 1930, while Hoover was still in office. At that time, the Boulder dam was unofficially named Hoover Dam. In 1930, Hoover's Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman said (via PBS) "I have the honor and privilege of giving a name to this new structure ... it shall be called the Hoover Dam," he said. He also noted all that Hoover did to make the project possible.

Hoover was an unpopular president

Even before Hoover left office in 1932, the American economy crashed and as a result, Hoover was an unpopular figure. According to many, the Hoover administration had mishandled the 1929 Wall Street collapse which opened the door to The Great Depression, as PBS goes on to explain. Much of the economic hardships Americans faced at the time were blamed on Hoover. Nonetheless by 1931 the name Hoover Dam became official by an act of Congress, according to the U.S Bureau of Reclamation website, the federal agency which manages the structure to this day.

Though officially called the Hoover Dam, Roosevelt's subsequent Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, who allegedly didn't like Hoover, tried to change it and he had varying levels of success in doing so (via USBR). Some 12 years after construction was complete on the project, though, in 1947 the House Resolution 140 once more made it official. President Hoover, it read, played an active part in securing the location in the Black Canyon, and construction contracts were also signed while he was in office, among other points which justified the decision, in the Congress' opinion, according to PBS.