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American National Biography

Elwood Mead

Besides the day-to-day management of his bureau, Mead's energies were directed increasingly toward one of the outstanding engineering feats of the twentieth century, the building of Hoover Dam, the centerpiece of a massive, multipurpose program for the lower basin of the Colorado River. Construction of this huge dam, begun in 1931, was the capstone of Mead's remarkable life in reclamation. Under his overall direction, the 727-foot arch-shaped structure was finished a full two years ahead of schedule. Unfortunately Mead was unable to attend the dedication in September 1935; he lay ill in a Los Angeles hospital. He recovered and returned to work, only to die soon thereafter in Washington, D.C., so he never saw the dam completed later that year. In recognition of his long service to reclamation, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes named the lake then forming behind Hoover Dam in his honor.

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