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By studying "The Greatest Dam in the World": Building Hoover Dam, students have learned why Hoover Dam was a triumph for the engineers of the Bureau of Reclamation, for the construction company that built it, and for the thousands of men who worked to complete it. For many Americans, Hoover Dam also came to be a powerful symbol of what American industry and American workers could accomplish, even in the depths of the Great Depression. The following activities will help students build on what they have learned.

Activity 1: Which Job Would You Want?
Have students list as many kinds of work as they can based on the readings and the images. Ask them to consider all kinds of jobs. You couldn't build the dam without men to pour concrete. Could you build it without men to drive trucks or feed the workers? The Hoover dam website has a list of additional jobs. Then divide the class into small groups. Ask each group to select a job and do some research on it. Then ask them to imagine what it might have been like to have that job at Hoover Dam. What would have been the plusses? What would have been the minuses? Ask each group to make a short presentation to the class and then have the other students vote on what job would have been the hardest and why. Which job would have been the most dangerous? Which job would be most important? Finally, ask them to consider which job they themselves would like best.

Activity 2: "Seven Wonders of the United States"
In February 1942, a soldier stationed at a training camp in Louisiana wrote the following letter to the New York Times:

The Regimental Intelligence, Platoon of the 114th Infantry, Forty-Fourth Division, recently reviewed the merits of the Seven Wonders of the World. The discussion took a turn when we reminded ourselves that these wonders belonged to the ancient world. Right off we decided to prepare a list of seven wonders of the United States. Our choices were based on those which were obvious, from the list of the ancient world wonders, massive, man-made, and enduring. . . . The order is purely arbitrary. We submit: Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Boulder Dam, River Rouge plant, Pulaski Skyway, Rushmore Memorial, New York City Subway.
Signed:
Corporal Joe Ward ³

Divide the class into seven small groups. Ask the first group to identify and describe the original "Seven Wonders of the World." Ask each of the other groups to study one of the six "wonders" (excluding Hoover Dam) on Corporal Ward's list. Ask each group to report back to the class. In a whole class discussion, compare and contrast the ancient and modern wonders. Then ask the students to come up with their own list of "Wonders of the United States." Identify the characteristics places would have to have to be on such a list. Ask the students to identify as many places as they can that have those characteristics. Which of those would they select as their "Seven Wonders"? How would their list compare with the original "Seven Wonders of the World" and with Corporal Ward's "Seven Wonders of the United States? Would Hoover Dam be on their list?

Activity 3: Hoover Dam and the Arid West
Hoover Dam has accomplished every goal set forth in the Boulder Canyon Project legislation. It prevents disastrous floods. It stabilizes the flow of water in the river, improving boat navigation. It supplies water to irrigation projects in California and Arizona. Huge aqueducts carry water from the Colorado to Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California. The power plants provide electricity to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Diego.

The availability of water stored behind Hoover Dam and the power produced by that water played a critical role in the growth of the American Southwest in the mid-20th century, but the demand for more water and electricity soon outstripped what this one dam could provide. Ask students to investigate how the places supplied by Hoover Dam have grown since 1935. They should be able to get population data for the states and cities listed above. Ask them to look up the construction dates for the other Colorado River dams shown on Map 1, as well as the purpose/benefits for which they were built. How do these dates relate to the growth statistics the students have collected?

Then ask the students to gather information on changes in the volume of water flowing down Colorado River during that period. How does that compare with the 16.5 million acre feet that the Colorado River Compact used as the basis for calculating the amount of water available for allocation to the states? That estimate has turned out to be too high, because the early 20th century was unusually wet while the period since then has been much drier. Then ask students to research the amount of water that the Colorado River Compact allocated to each state in the Lower Basin. Have students compare the data on the demand for water with the data on the available supply and then hold a whole class discussion brainstorming what problems might arise if the trends the students have identified continue.

Finally, ask the students to consider what effect building a new dam might have on these problems. What benefits would a new dam provide? What difficulties might those building it encounter? Ask them to compare and contrast these difficulties with the ones the builders of Hoover Dam faced. Do students think it would be necessary for the federal government to be involved to plan and complete such a new dam? Why or why not?

Activity 4: Public Works in the Local Community
Hoover Dam is an example of a "public works" project. According to Webster's Dictionary, "public works" are construction projects, such as water treatment plants, power plants, flood control systems, and highways and transportation networks that are built by the government for the public. They are critical to the functioning of modern communities, but few people notice them unless something goes wrong. Divide students into small groups and ask them to investigate examples of public works in their own community. They may be surprised at how old and how impressive some of these structures are. Private businesses may have built some of the dams, power plants, or other such facilities, but they do not fit the definition of "public works" given here. Ask the students to compare the private projects with the ones that were the result of government programs and to define for themselves the differences between public and private "works." How are they different? What might be the advantages of each type of ownership? Are there some kinds of works that only government can build?

Some of the public works in the community may be historic; students might want to consider nominating them to national or state registers of historic places or including them in walking or driving tours or in on-line travel itineraries for presentation to the local chamber of commerce. Others may be simply old. Expanding demand and deferred maintenance may have affected their ability to do their jobs or to do them safely. Getting money in local budgets to keep them updated or even maintained is often difficult. If students identify a neglected public works project, they may want to consider creating a PowerPoint presentation to present to local government authorities to call attention to the problem.

³ “Our Own Seven Wonders,” Letters to the Editor, The New York Times, Feb. 6. 1942, 18; Historical New York Times Database, accessed 9/20/2011.

 

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