Elwood Mead: Father of Lake Mead

BOULDER CITY—A vast majority of Southern California’s boating and yacht club activities takes place along the Pacific coast. Sure, you could hop on a boat at a freshwater waterway, such as Big Bear Lake or Lake Elsinore … or a stretch of the Colorado River near the California-Nevada-Arizona border.

The southern tip of Nevada is home to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. You’ll certainly find boating activities on Lake Mead – with some of those activities connected to Nevada Yacht Club.

Hoover Dam, which was named after Pres. Herbert Hoover, came online in the 1930s. Behind the dam was Lake Mead – which was named after Elwood Mead, an engineer who specialized in irrigation.

Southern Nevada’s boaters today take to a lake whose namesake opposed the very law creating the waterway.

A 1902 law – the Federal Reclamation Act – paved the way for Hoover Dam to be built (and help create what would eventually be named Lake Mead).

“The Federal Reclamation Act came about in 1902 to fund irrigation projects in the West, but Mead opposed the law,” an article about Mead on the Indiana Public Media website stated.

Mead followed his opposition of the federal law with a move to Australia, where he worked on water issues Down Under. The engineer and irrigation expert would return to the United States several years later as a professor at the University of California and chair of the California Land Settlement Board. But Mead would eventually play a pivotal role in directing and developing new reclamation projects, such as Hoover Dam.

Construction of the dam began in 1931; it was commissioned in 1935. Mead would pass away in 1936 – and the lake was named after him later that same year.

Mead, who was born in Indiana before being hailed as the “Engineer Who Made the Desert Bloom,” was also responsible for establishing water policy in Wyoming and the constructions of Owyhee Dam in Oregon and Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. He was appointed as the Commissioner of Reclamation in 1924.


Sources: Indiana Public Media, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Australian National University

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