Since about 1900, the Black Canyon and nearby Boulder Canyon had been investigated for their potential to support a dam that would control floods, provide irrigation water and produce hydroelectric power. In 1928, Congress authorized the project. The winning bid to build the dam was submitted by a consortium named Six Companies, Inc., which began construction of the dam in early 1931. Such a large concrete structure had never been built before, and some of the techniques were unproven. The torrid summer weather and lack of facilities near the site also presented difficulties. Nevertheless, Six Companies turned the dam over to the federal government on March 1, 1936, more than two years ahead of schedule.
Hoover Dam impounds Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by volume when full. The dam is located near Boulder City, Nevada, a municipality originally constructed for workers on the construction project, about 30 mi (48 km) southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. The dam's generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. Hoover Dam is a major tourist attraction, with 7 million tourists a year. The heavily traveled U.S. Route 93 (US 93) ran along the dam's crest until October 2010, when the Hoover Dam Bypass opened.
In 1922, the Reclamation Service presented a report calling for the development of a dam on the Colorado River for flood control and electric power generation. The report was principally authored by Davis, and was called the Fall-Davis report after Interior Secretary Albert Fall. The Fall-Davis report cited use of the Colorado River as a federal concern because the river's basin covered several states, and the river eventually entered Mexico. Though the Fall-Davis report called for a dam "at or near Boulder Canyon", the Reclamation Service (which was renamed the Bureau of Reclamation the following year) found that canyon unsuitable. One potential site at Boulder Canyon was bisected by a geologic fault; two others were so narrow there was no space for a construction camp at the bottom of the canyon or for a spillway. The Service investigated Black Canyon and found it ideal; a railway could be laid from the railhead in Las Vegas to the top of the dam site. Despite the site change, the dam project was referred to as the "Boulder Canyon Project".
Following the completion of the dam, the entrances to the two outer diversion tunnels were sealed at the opening and halfway through the tunnels with large concrete plugs. The downstream halves of the tunnels following the inner plugs are now the main bodies of the spillway tunnels. The inner diversion tunnels were plugged at approximately one-third of their length, beyond which they now carry steel pipes connecting the intake towers to the power plant and outlet works. The inner tunnels' outlets are equipped with gates that can be closed to drain the tunnels for maintenance.
Most work had been completed by the dedication, and Six Companies negotiated with the government through late 1935 and early 1936 to settle all claims and arrange for the formal transfer of the dam to the Federal Government. The parties came to an agreement and on March 1, 1936, Secretary Ickes formally accepted the dam on behalf of the government. Six Companies was not required to complete work on one item, a concrete plug for one of the bypass tunnels, as the tunnel had to be used to take in irrigation water until the powerhouse went into operation.
With the agreement of Kaufmann and the engineers, True also devised for the pipes and machinery an innovative color-coding which was implemented throughout all BOR projects. True's consulting artist job lasted through 1942; it was extended so he could complete design work for the Parker, Shasta and Grand Coulee dams and power plants. True's work on the Hoover Dam was humorously referred to in a poem published in The New Yorker, part of which read, "lose the spark, and justify the dream; but also worthy of remark will be the color scheme".
Complementing Kaufmann and True's work, sculptor Oskar J. W. Hansen designed many of the sculptures on and around the dam. His works include the monument of dedication plaza, a plaque to memorialize the workers killed and the bas-reliefs on the elevator towers. In his words, Hansen wanted his work to express "the immutable calm of intellectual resolution, and the enormous power of trained physical strength, equally enthroned in placid triumph of scientific accomplishment", because "[t]he building of Hoover Dam belongs to the sagas of the daring." Hansen's dedication plaza, on the Nevada abutment, contains a sculpture of two winged figures flanking a flagpole.
Surrounding the base of the monument is a terrazzo floor embedded with a "star map". The map depicts the Northern Hemisphere sky at the moment of President Roosevelt's dedication of the dam. This is intended to help future astronomers, if necessary, calculate the exact date of dedication. The 30-foot-high (9.1 m) bronze figures, dubbed "Winged Figures of the Republic", were both formed in a continuous pour. To put such large bronzes into place without marring the highly polished bronze surface, they were placed on ice and guided into position as the ice melted. Hansen's bas-relief on the Nevada elevator tower depicts the benefits of the dam: flood control, navigation, irrigation, water storage, and power. The bas-relief on the Arizona elevator depicts, in his words, "the visages of those Indian tribes who have inhabited mountains and plains from ages distant."
Excavation for the powerhouse was carried out simultaneously with the excavation for the dam foundation and abutments. The excavation of this U-shaped structure located at the downstream toe of the dam was completed in late 1933 with the first concrete placed in November 1933. Filling of Lake Mead began February 1, 1935, even before the last of the concrete was poured that May. The powerhouse was one of the projects uncompleted at the time of the formal dedication on September 30, 1935; a crew of 500 men remained to finish it and other structures. To make the powerhouse roof bombproof, it was constructed of layers of concrete, rock, and steel with a total thickness of about 3.5 feet (1.1 m), topped with layers of sand and tar.
In the latter half of 1936, water levels in Lake Mead were high enough to permit power generation, and the first three Allis Chalmers built Francis turbine-generators, all on the Nevada side, began operating. In March 1937, one more Nevada generator went online and the first Arizona generator by August. By September 1939, four more generators were operating, and the dam's power plant became the largest hydroelectricity facility in the world. The final generator was not placed in service until 1961, bringing the maximum generating capacity to 1,345 megawatts at the time. Original plans called for 16 large generators, eight on each side of the river, but two smaller generators were installed instead of one large one on the Arizona side for a total of 17. The smaller generators were used to serve smaller communities at a time when the output of each generator was dedicated to a single municipality, before the dam's total power output was placed on the grid and made arbitrarily distributable.
The amount of electricity generated by Hoover Dam has been decreasing along with the falling water level in Lake Mead due to the prolonged drought since year 2000 and high demand for the Colorado River's water. By 2014 its generating capacity was downrated by 23% to 1592 MW and was providing power only during periods of peak demand. Lake Mead fell to a new record low elevation of 1,071.61 feet (326.63 m) on July 1, 2016, before beginning to rebound slowly. Under its original design, the dam would no longer be able to generate power once the water level fell below 1,050 feet (320 m), which might have occurred in 2017 had water restrictions not been enforced. To lower the minimum power pool elevation from 1,050 to 950 feet (320 to 290 m), five wide-head turbines, designed to work efficiently with less flow, were installed. Water levels were maintained at over 1,075 feet (328 m) in 2018 and 2019, but fell to a new record low of 1,071.55 feet (326.61 m) on June 10, 2021 and were projected to fall below 1,066 feet (325 m) by the end of 2021.
Control of water was the primary concern in the building of the dam. Power generation has allowed the dam project to be self-sustaining: proceeds from the sale of power repaid the 50-year construction loan, and those revenues also finance the multimillion-dollar yearly maintenance budget. Power is generated in step with and only with the release of water in response to downstream water demands.
Electricity from the dam's powerhouse was originally sold pursuant to a fifty-year contract, authorized by Congress in 1934, which ran from 1937 to 1987. In 1984, Congress passed a new statute which set power allocations to southern California, Arizona, and Nevada from the dam from 1987 to 2017. The powerhouse was run under the original authorization by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison; in 1987, the Bureau of Reclamation assumed control. In 2011, Congress enacted legislation extending the current contracts until 2067, after setting aside 5% of Hoover Dam's power for sale to Native American tribes, electric cooperatives, and other entities. The new arrangement began on October 1, 2017.
The dam is protected against over-topping by two spillways. The spillway entrances are located behind each dam abutment, running roughly parallel to the canyon walls. The spillway entrance arrangement forms a classic side-flow weir with each spillway containing four 100-foot-long (30 m) and 16-foot-wide (4.9 m) steel-drum gates. Each gate weighs 5,000,000 pounds (2,300 metric tons) and can be operated manually or automatically. Gates are raised and lowered depending on water levels in the reservoir and flood conditions. The gates cannot entirely prevent water from entering the spillways but can maintain an extra 16 ft (4.9 m) of lake level. 2b1af7f3a8