The Hoover Dam Story

On December 21, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Boulder Canyon Project Act for “…controlling the floods, improving navigation and regulating the flow of the Colorado River, providing for storage and for the delivery of the stored waters thereof for reclamation of public lands and other beneficial uses exclusively within the United States, and for the generation of electrical energy…”

Boulder Dam[now Hoover Dam], between Arizona and Nevada, Apr. 1938. United States. Bureau of Reclamation, Apr. 1938. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

The act sought to dam the Colorado River and distribute its water for use in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Considered a wonder of civil engineering, the concrete arch-gravity Hoover Dam was constructed in Black Canyon on the Colorado River, on the Arizona-Nevada border. Often referred to as Boulder Dam, the site was officially named after Herbert Hoover in 1947. Previously a mining engineer, Hoover was actively engaged in the dam’s development and the distribution of its water rights.

John Wesley Powell, 1834-1902. [1902]. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

In 1869, Civil War veteran Major John Wesley Powell was the first person on record to travel the length of the Colorado River. As head of the U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain region, Powell was also one of the first to describe the Southwest’s geography in his work Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States.

In 1900, William E. Smythe envisioned an irrigated desert in The Conquest of Arid America. This publication generated much popular support for the Newlands Reclamation Act signed in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt whose Progressive-era conservation policy linked democratic opportunity to control of natural resources.

When flooding from the Colorado River wiped out nascent farming and irrigation efforts in major portions of the Imperial and Yuma valleys between 1905 and 1916, the die was cast favoring technological control of the river.

Construction centered first on diverting the Colorado through four fifty-foot diameter tunnels, two on each side of the river, driven through the canyon walls—one of the toughest aspects of the project. After constructing housing for both government and contractor employees, a highway from Boulder to the dam site, railroad lines to the dam site, and a power transmission line to supply energy for construction, the dam’s first concrete was poured in June 1933. Two years later, in February 1935, the dam started impounding water into Lake Mead; the last concrete was poured in May that year. All features were completed by March 1, 1936. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the dam on September 30, 1935, he said:

…I have the right once more to congratulate you who have builded [sic] Boulder Dam [Hoover Dam], and on behalf of the nation, to say to you: “Well done.”

Salix and Populus along a Dry Colorado River Floodplain, Yuma, ArizonaExternal. [Between 1891-1936]. American Environmental Photographs,1891-1936External. University of Chicago Library

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King Of The Jukeboxes

On December 21, 1946, Louis Jordan’s single, the fast paced and humorous “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” debuted on the rhythm and blues (R&B) charts. Over the next seventeen weeks, the recording held fast to the chart, occupying the number one position, paired with the popular “Let the Good Times Roll.” Such success was commonplace for Jordan.

[Portrait of Louis Jordan, Paramount Theater(?), New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946]. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. William P. Gottlieb Collection. Music Division

Born in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1908, Louis Jordan started playing saxophone at age seven. As a teenager, he toured with the famed Rabbit Foot Minstrels; his father was its bandleader. Jordan majored in music at Arkansas Baptist College.

By 1938, Jordan headed his own band, showcasing his talents as vocalist, conductor, and comedian. In the 1940s Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five launched fifty-four singles on the R&B charts; eighteen songs reached the number one spot. Some of their most popular recordings were Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, Boogie Woogie Blue Plate, Saturday Night Fish Fry, and Johnny Mercer‘s G.I. Jive—which also topped the pop music chart.

Jordan’s style, a combination of jazz and blues—syncopated shuffle rhythms in a small combo setting– combined musical innovation with humor and jive talk. He introduced jump blues and boogie-woogie to the masses, paving the way for rock ‘n’ roll. Jordan appeared in musical film shorts and recorded with prominent artists including Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Portrait of Louis Jordan, Paramount Theater(?), New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. William P. Gottlieb Collection. Music Division
Portrait of Louis Jordan [with the Tympany Five], New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. William P. Gottlieb Collection. Music Division
Portrait of Louis Jordan, Paramount Theater(?), New York, N.Y., ca July 1946. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. William P. Gottlieb Collection. Music Division

Jordan was highly popular during World War II and he recorded for the Armed Forces Radio Service and the Navy V-Disc and V-Disc programs. However, his career foundered in the 1950s and repeated attempts to stage a comeback failed. Unfortunately for the band leader, his sound was rapidly eclipsed by the very music that he had helped to create—rock ‘n’ roll. The year Jordan abandoned Decca Records, the label produced Bill Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” in a style closely modeled on Jordan’s. Like many songs that Louis Jordan introduced, “Let the Good Times Roll” became an R&B standard. Recorded by Ray Charles, the song topped the charts again in 1960. In 1992, the musical Five Guys Named Moe, based on the life and music of Louis Jordan, opened on Broadway; it played for 445 performances.

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O Radiant Dawn

Winter begins! The name “winter” comes from an old Germanic word meaning “time of water” and refers to the seasonal precipitation. The winter solstice—the moment when the sun’s apparent path is farthest south from the equator—is used to officially mark winter’s beginning. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter begins on the “shortest day” of the year, which most frequently falls on December 21, but occasionally occurs on December 22. Winter lasts until the vernal, or spring, equinox–equal night–around March 20, thus marking the beginning of spring when day and night are equal in length.

What sorcery
within a night
has made a city street
into a fairy glade?

What Sorcery within a night…into a Fairy Glade?. [between 1900-1910]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division
Skating on Lake, Central Park. F. S. Armitage, camera; filmed February 5, 1900; United States: American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, 1902. The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898 to 1906. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

In an extended meditation on the winter landscape, “A Winter Walk,” Henry David Thoreau reflected:

Now commences the long winter evening around the farmer’s hearth, when the thoughts of the indwellers travel far abroad, and men are by nature and necessity charitable and liberal to all creatures. Now is the happy resistance to cold, when the farmer reaps his reward, and thinks of his preparedness for winter…

A Winter Walk. In Excursions, by Henry David Thoreau. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866. Selected Digitized Books. General Collections

In the fall of 1938, Work Projects Administration interviewer May Swenson recorded a few tall tales swapped by the lumberjacks during long winter months.” One such tale–It Was So Cold That–told by John Rivers, is about toughing out a Wisconsin cold spell so extreme “that any thermometer couldn’t hold together for a minute.”

As the story goes, without food in camp, the lumberjacks sent Happy Jack, famous for the derby hat that never left his head, out to drill a hole in the icy river for fish:

…we rigged him up in all the coats and jackets and woolen shirts we could spare and still keep ourselves from freezin…and four pairs woolen socks and his leather boots and top o’ them a pair hightopped rubber boots—and when Happy Jack was ready to go out he…was as big as a brood mare and musta weighed pretty near as much…. Wal, Happy Jack picked up the torch and the saw in his mits—he had 6 pair mits on, 3 wool and 3 leather, furlined—and muffled up to the ears. And on top of his ears o’course was settin that little old derby.

Tall Tales in the Lumberjack Region. John Rivers, interviewee; May Swenson, interviewer; New York, N.Y., September 29, 1938. American Life Histories, Manuscripts from the Federal Writer’s Projects, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Find out if Happy Jack returned with a catch. Go to “Tall Tales in the Lumberjack Region” to continue the story.

First Snow of the Season in the foothills of the Little Belt Mountains…Meagher County, Montana. Russell Lee, photographer, Aug. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

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