Profiles In Badassery: Elwood Mead

"Certifiable Badass" needs to be inscribed here as well.

This weekend marks the sixth wedding anniversary for Mrs. T-Mill and I. On January 15, 2005 we got married in Las Vegas. To answer the first question we are always asked, no, we did not get married by Elvis. Instead, we had a 15 minute delay as the playoff game between the Steelers and Jets went to overtime because out minister was too busy watching it.

We spent to following week in Vegas, touring the sights and casinos. We made a beautiful drive out to the edge of Area 51, which is one of the most gorgeous scenic drives you can take if you ever get a chance. I lost money on the Colts game, missed the end of Gene Keady's final home game against Indiana, we toured Red Rocks Canyon, and we visited Hoover Dam.

It is Hoover Dam that relates to today's Profile in Badassery. It is one of the grandest engineering projects ever accomplished. There are bigger dams out there, but Hoover Dam is probably the most famous in this country because of its proximity to Las Vegas and the effect it had on the American Southwest during the Great Depression. It was the largest concrete project in the world at the time of its construction and it provided jobs for thousands at a time of record unemployment.

Naturally, a Boilermaker engineer was in charge.

Elwood Mead's early years:

Mead was born on January 16, 1858 in Patriot, Indiana along the Ohio River. It is the proximity of the river that probably influenced his life's work, as he was involved in the construction of the Hoover, Grand Coulee, and Owyhee Dams. He graduated from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1882, earning his doctorate a year later from Iowa State.

While it Purdue his specialty was in irrigation. Even before his work on the Hoover Dam he was honored with Purdue's first ever Honorary Doctorate in 1904 because of his work in the field of irrigation. From 1888 until 1899 he served as the territorial and state engineer for Wyoming. He headed up projects such as the Cody Canal and created water laws for the states of Colorado and Wyoming.

His work won him international fame. After receiving his Honorary Doctorate from Purdue he headed to Australia in 1907, where he became Chairman of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in Victoria. This was a post he served in for four years.

Return to the U.S. and New Deal Policy effects

In 1911 Mead returned to the United States and became a professor of Rural Institutions with the University of California. He was also named the chairman of the California Land Settlement Coard. On this board he developed ideas about developing efficient rural communities. This would later affect New Deal legislation by becoming the Resettlement Administration, which helped families struggling during the Depression.

Mead worked in California until 1924 when President Coolidge appointed him as Chairman of the Bureau of Reclamation. He twice went to Palestine in the Middle East to assist Zionist with irrigation efforts, thus laying the groundwork for agriculture in the modern State of Israel. It was in his capacity as Chairman of the Bureau of Reclamation that he supervised the construction of the epic Dams.

Hoover Dam

During Mead's tenure as Chairman not everyone in this country had electricity. Many people in rural communities didn't have electricity because of the cost associated with both the transmission and generation of electric power. Mead's projects changed that. The Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State was built from 1933 to 1941 and fueled the growth of industry in the Northwest during World War II. It provided irrigation for thousands of acres and power for key industries during the War.

The Owyhee Dam in Oregon, constructed from 1928 to 1932, was also planned by Mead. It is very similar in design to the Hoover Dam and was basically its prototype. It too provide hydroelectric power and irrigation for the Pacific Northwest.

Mead's most ambition project by far was the Hoover Dam. At 726 feet high, it remains as one of the tallest dams in the world. The government originally started planning in 1922 with the dam being used for flood control and irrigation. Naturally, the irrigation badass that was Mead was called in on the planning. Mead called upon a fellow Big Ten alum in John L. Savage for the design of the Dam itself.

The construction of the Dam was a rousing success, opening more than two years ahead of schedule thanks to Mead's efforts. Mead was also central to the controversy for the naming of the dam. He preferred the name Boulder Dam, and since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in charge of the country at the time and didn't want anything associated with Herbert Hoover, it became Boulder Dam despite the work Hoover did in getting it built.

The Dam itself is an incredible marvel of construction. Lake Mead, which was formed behind the Dam with the blocking of the Colorado River, was named after Elwood mead and it has provided irrigation for thousands in Arizona and Nevada.

Later Life

Sadly, Mead did not live long after the completion of the Dam. He passed away on January 26, 1936, just three months after President Roosevelt dedicated the Dam and before Lake Mead was even filled. His legacy is still honored heavily because of his role in Washington, DC on the construction and planning of the Dam.

Mead is a badass because his projects changed the face of American culture. His projects assisted millions of Americans at the time of this country's great economic crisis. He never lost sight of his small town Indiana roots, making sure that his work always benefits the local farmer. He was world renowned for his work in irrigation, affecting more than just the United States.

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