On a Great Humanitarian

We all know how the President responded to the Great Depression, right? It’s been thoroughly documented in the history books and in governmental archives. But, before we look at that in a little more detail, let’s remember the man himself.

The President was known for his business knowledge. He’d been in government for some time, and his reputation was unimpeachable. He’d served two previous administrations in the cabinet as a secretary. Before that, during World War 1, the President had led efforts to bring support to the people of Belgium as they suffered extreme food shortages from the effects of much of the war being fought on their territory–and this was even before the United States entered the conflict. His name became synonymous with humanitarian efforts when then-President Woodrow Wilson asked him to lead American efforts at bringing supplies to Europe to help rebuild after the devastation of the Great War. Thus, the man who worked to deal with the Great Depression seemed the perfect man for the job because he knew how to deal with crises.

So, what did the President do to try to overcome the effects of having almost 25% unemployment, the banking system in tatters, Wall Street and the entire business community rattled, and people’s lives on the edge? Well, we have to remember that, at that time, no administration had intervened in the economy before. It’s difficult to believe, but it is so. The American tradition was that business and government were separate, and, while elected officials could affect the economy with laws and guidelines, actually and actively working to stimulate the economy had not been tried before. And when the President did it to combat the economic downturn, many people thought it was tantamount to treason or communism.

No, he knew that to do nothing would be the worst thing for the country. He promised and delivered, in his words, “the most gigantic program of economic defense and [economic] counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic.” And so it was. He put the government to work on the economy like no other Chief Executive before him. Public works programs, support for the failing banks, low-interest loans to corporations, and he ordered companies to not lay off people (which was among the first things companies did when hard times hit) knowing that incomes were still needed. In short, he did all he could to make the situation better. What else would you expect from a great humanitarian? He knew what people were going through.

And he tried to calm people’s fears about the economy as well. He called in reporters to show how he continued his daily routines as if to say, “look, all is well. It’s going to be ok.” He even tried to allay fears by coining the term “Depression” to indicate that, like people at times, even the economy could become depressed, and that bright days were ahead.

Sadly, as we know, it didn’t work. His name became synonymous not with humanitarianism but, rather, with the Great Depression itself.

But you can’t say Herbert Hoover didn’t try.

On a Dam Coincidence

The title here is not a typo. The story is about the building of the structure that became known as the Hoover Dam. The name of the dam that was built on the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada comes to us because the president at the time the funds were allocated for the construction was the much-maligned Herbert Hoover. Hoover, presiding over the worst economic downturn in American History, knew the construction of such a dam would have drastic and amazing consequences for the entire southwestern United States.

First of all, the influx of government money to the severely depressed region would be warmly welcomed. Jobs were created. The water collected by the dam led to an explosion of agriculture in an area that had largely been desert. Floods were controlled. Lake Mead was created. The electricity that the dam produced completely changed the lives of everyone in that part of the nation. And so on.

It is an amazing engineering feat. Hoover himself is the only professionally trained engineer to hold the presidency, so that tracks. In today’s money, the dam cost almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. Almost 3.5 million cubic yards of concrete was poured to construct it. And the building of the massive structure was so fraught with danger because of the scale of the venture that it eventually cost over 100 lives.

The first person to die at the building site was a man named John Tierney. He died in a flash flood that roared through the canyon where the dam would eventually be built while he and a survey party were scouting a possible suitable places to build. This happened on December 20, 1921, long before the dam’s plans and funding were approved.

Ironically, the last person to die during the dam’s construction happened 14 years later to the day. On December 20, 1935, a worker fell to his death between two of the intake towers in the dam. That coincidence was not lost on many who worked on the massive project.

Rumors abound to this day surrounding the build. Some say that there are workers who were accidently cemented inside the dam and their bodies never removed. Some say that the project was the first one in the world to have required hardhats be worn by all construction workers because of the deaths. Some say that the dam is haunted and therefore jinxed by those who lost their lives there. Of course, none of these is true.

And those rumors are peanuts compared to the coincidence of the first and last deaths that took place at the building site. The fact that both men died on the exact same date 14 years apart is amazing on its face. What makes it even more eerie–almost downright spooky–is the other coincidence about the deaths.

You see, the man who died 14 years later after John Tierney was named Patrick Tierney–a man who was John’s only son.