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Reading 3: Excerpts from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Speech at the Dedication of Boulder Dam, Sept. 30, 1935

Roosevelt’s speech was front-page news in newspapers all over the country.  In addition to the 10,000 people who braved 102o heat to hear the speech in person, it was broadcast to a radio audience of millions of people.

This morning I came, I saw and I was conquered, as everyone would be who sees for the first time this great feat of mankind.

We are here to celebrate the completion of the greatest dam in the world, rising 726 feet above the bedrock of the river and altering the geography of a whole region; we are here to see the creation of the largest artificial lake in the world—115 miles long, holding enough water, for example, to cover the State of Connecticut to a depth of ten feet; and we are here to see nearing completion a power house which will contain the largest generators yet installed in this country.

All these dimensions are superlative.  They represent and embody the accumulated engineering knowledge and experience of centuries; and when we behold them it is fitting that we pay tribute to the genius of their designers.  We recognize also the energy, resourcefulness and zeal of the builders, who, under the greatest physical obstacles, have pushed this work forward to completion two years in advance of the contract requirements.  But especially, we express our gratitude to the thousands of workers who gave brain and brawn to this great work of construction.

We know that, as an unregulated river, the Colorado added little of value to the region this dam serves.  When in flood the river was a threatening torrent.  In the dry months of the year it shrank to a trickling stream.  The gates of these great diversion tunnels were closed here at Boulder Dam last February.  In June a great flood came down the river.  It came roaring down the canyons of the Colorado, through Grand Canyon, Iceberg and Boulder Canyons, but it was caught and safely held behind Boulder Dam.

Across the San Jacinto Mountains southwest of Boulder Dam, the cities of Southern California are constructing an aqueduct to cost $220,000,000, which they have raised, for the purpose of carrying the regulated waters of the Colorado River to the Pacific Coast 259 miles away.

Across the desert and mountains to the west and south run great electric transmission lines by which factory motors, street and household lights and irrigation pumps will be operated in Southern Arizona and California.

Boulder Dam and the powerhouses together cost a total of $108,000,000.  The price of Boulder Dam during the depression years provided [work] for 4,000 men, most of them heads of families, and many thousands more were enabled to earn a livelihood through manufacture of materials and machinery.

And this picture is true on different scales in regard to the thousands of projects undertaken by the Federal Government, by the States and by the counties and municipalities in recent years.

Throughout our national history we have had a great program of public improvements, and in these past two years all that we have done has been to accelerate that program.  We know, too, that the reason for this speeding up was the need of giving relief to several million men and women whose earning capacity had been destroyed by the complexities and lack of thought of the economic system of the past generation.

In a little over two years this great national work has accomplished much.  We have helped mankind by the works themselves and, at the same time, we have created the necessary purchasing power to throw in the clutch to start the wheels of what we call private industry.  Such expenditures on all of these works, great and small, flow out to many beneficiaries; they revive other and more remote industries and businesses.  Labor makes wealth.  The use of materials makes wealth.  To employ workers and materials when private employment has failed is to translate into great national possessions the energy that otherwise would be wasted.  Boulder Dam is a splendid symbol of that principle.  The mighty waters of the Colorado were running unused to the sea.  Today we translate them into a great national possession.

Today marks the official completion and dedication of Boulder Dam.  This is an engineering victory of the first order—another great achievement of American resourcefulness, American skill and determination.

That is why I have the right once more to congratulate you who have built Boulder Dam and on behalf of the Nation to say to you, "Well done."

Questions for Reading 3

1. During the 1920s, the big dam on the Colorado was usually called the "Boulder Canyon Project" or sometimes "Boulder Dam." In 1930, President Hoover's secretary of the interior named it "Hoover Dam." Roosevelt defeated Hoover in the presidential election of 1932. Why do you think he used the old name in his speech? (In 1947, Congress unanimously changed the name back to "Hoover Dam.")

2. What three groups did Roosevelt credit with the building of the dam? Which group's contributions do you think he valued the most? What makes you think so? Do you agree, based on what you know so far?

3. The President identified benefits the new dam had already provided. What were they? Whom did they benefit?

4. Roosevelt strongly defended the work relief projects for which his administration was famous. What arguments did he use? Do you think he made a good case? Why or why not?

5. If you were reading or listening to Roosevelt's speech in 1935, would you think that Hoover Dam was one of his New Deal work relief projects? Was it? Explain your answer.

Abridged version of full text of speech, found on The American Presidency Project website.


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