A list of the American construction projects that made an impact on history.

These American construction projects are a cornerstone of ingenuity. One of the ways the United States built itself to be a superpower was through ambitious construction projects, many making their mark on the world and solidifying their space in human history. This is an overview of the most prolific American construction projects and what has set them apart from other projects.

California Aqueduct

The California Aqueduct is a project vital to California’s habitat. It supplies water to:

  • San Joaquin Valley
  • Kern County Water Agency
  • Santa Barbara
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Pyramid Lake and Castaic Lake, which is then distributed to Los Angeles
  • Palmade
  • Lancaster
  • Silverwood Lake and Lake Perris, which is distributed to Riverside and San Bernardino.

The 444-mile aqueduct was part of a $1.75 billion bond that voters passed in 1960. Shaped like an inverted trapezoid, the aqueduct varies in bottom width from 12 feet to 85 feet and is about 30 feet deep.

Its massive sloping walls have become an iconic staple among inner cities in Southern California. Special equipment was used to build the sloping walls and a controlled volume flow system was adapted to enable the concrete channel to move water much like a pipeline would, but through an open canal instead.

Los Angeles Aqueduct

One city in which the large canal and its massive sloping walls have become a staple is in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Aqueduct, however, has been around much longer. This system was completed in 1913 in response to a rising population and a growing scarcity in water supply. The purpose of the aqueduct was to channel water from the Sierra Nevadas to the Los Angeles region.

After a battle that included pushback from residents of the Sierra Nevada region, William Mulholland, head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, was granted a bond of $23 million by Los Angeles voters in 1907. Construction began in 1908 and required the work of 4,000 laborers.

Upon its completion, the 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct was the world’s largest single water project and world’s longest aqueduct.

Throughout the years to come this aqueduct led to strife between residents of the Sierra Nevada region, who historically protested its existence, and the rest of Southern California. This lead to protesters blowing up parts of the aqueduct in 1924 and 1927 during what would become known as the “water wars”.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Measuring in at three miles, the Golden Gate Bridge—originally named Chrysopylae, a greek term for ‘Golden Gate’—was completed in 1937, after four years of arduously dangerous work.

Once considered the longest suspension bridge in the world, over 1.2 million steel rivets were used to hold the Golden Gate Bridge together, with the largest sections of cable on the bridge being made from more than 27,000 individual steel wires.

The concept of connecting the Bay Area was essential, as many residents of the area relied on ferry services to reach the city from neighboring countries, which impacted the city’s growth and development. The bridge was an idea that brought forth many proposals in the late 19th century, but in 1916 it was James Wilkins who formulated one of the first proposals that made the concept more feasible. His plan had such potential that it caught the eye of Joseph Strauss, the engineer who would ultimately take on and orchestrate the construction of the project, which began on January 5, 1933.

Strauss and company engineered and designed the $35 million project with the help of 10 contractors and their associated workforce. While fatal incidents occurred during production, the relatively small amount of casualties was an anomaly at that time and therefore considered a monumental success.

Since then, the Golden Gate Bridge has become one of the American construction projects that is an iconic symbol across the world.

Hoover Dam

The Great Depression was a time when job scarcity was at its highest. This was a large part of why the Hoover Dam project was such a huge event. Built during the 1930s, the $49 million project—equivalent to about $860 million today—was completed under budget and within five years.

The Hoover Dam consists of:

  • 6.7 million pounds of pipe and fittings
  • 88 million pounds of plate steel and outlet pipes
  • 45 million pounds of reinforced steel
  • 4.4 million cubic yards of concrete

Features:

  • stands 726 feet over the Black Canyon
  • 660 feet wide at the base, 1,244 feet across the top
  • weighs 6.6 million tons
  • situated behind Lake Mead—the country’s largest reservoir

At the time of construction, the Hoover Dam was considered historic in that it was the largest manmade masonry structure since the Great Pyramids. Additionally, it answered a desperate call from people even outside of the U.S. in need of work during a time of global economic disaster.

Nowadays, the Hoover Dam is one of the most popular American construction projects and receives over a million visitors annually. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also offers tours of what is considered one of the wonders of the modern industrial world.

Transcontinental Railway

The completion of the Transcontinental Railway on May 10, 1869 marked the end of a painfully long construction project. At first, this American construction project progressed slowly but its pace quickened following the end of the Civil War.

The concept of a railroad connecting America’s east and west coasts began circulating from the moment the steam locomotive was popularized in the early 1830s. When the Gold Rush of the 1840s led thousands to California, pressure for the railway mounted.

It took the Southern states seceding from the Union for a route to be selected as there had been a long standing dispute between the North and South as to what route the railway should be built upon. The route chosen was one that ran through Nebraska to California.

The process began in 1861 and required over 2,000 miles of track to be laid. Two railroad companies were employed for the job, with the Central Pacific laying track eastward from Sacramento, and the Union Pacific heading west from Omaha. The two sets of tracks met at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869 and from there history was changed as travel times between both coasts was dramatically decreased from months to less than a week. the railway was not only a benefit to travelers, but commerce now had logistical capabilities that eclipsed prior options.

Panama Canal

As far as American construction projects go, the Panama Canal had a rough construction process. It took two stages of construction to be completed, spanning a 30-year time period.

The French attempt ended in 1893 due to multiple complications, such as disease outbreak, lack of field experience, and a struggle to build a sea-level canal. During this period of construction there was an estimated 22,000 deaths.

In 1904, Americans purchased the project from the French company. In 1906, it was decided that a lock canal would be built and the three years that followed were spent in development of construction facilities, disease control, and surveys. It was informally opened on August 15, 1914 and formally opened on July 12, 1920.  

The canal’s features include:

  • an Atlantic entrance, which was a seven-mile channel in Limon Bay
  • 11.5 miles of canal between the Atlantic entrance and the Gatun Locks
  • a 32-mile channel that stretched from Gaten Lake to Gamboa
  • Culebra Cut, through which the channel stretched for eight miles and is 150 meters wide
  • Pedro Miguel Locks that lowered ships by 9.4 meters to a lake

Today, the Panama Canal expedited the global economy, providing safe travel of goods while significantly decreasing distance. In 2015, the Panama Canal expansion project was completed. The expansion project doubled the capacity for the canal, allowing larger ships with heavier payloads to make it through the canal on a more frequent basis.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The construction of Trans-Alaska Pipeline lasted two years and the project involved around 70,000 workers.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act was passed on July 7, 1973, which lead to years of debate about the environmental impact of the project. When the first section of pipe was laid in 1975, this was considered the largest among private American construction projects in history.

Facts about the Trans-Alaska Pipeline include:

  • total cost of $8 billion
  • transports 20 percent of U.S. petroleum production
  • $50 billion in tax revenues by 2002
  • 71 gate valves that can block oil flow in either direction
  • 420 miles of above ground pipeline

One World Trade Center

The One World Trade Center is an American construction project that was built as a monument for the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was formed that same year to plan the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site.

In 2003 the design plan and architect, David Childs, was selected and plans to build what would become the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere commenced. Following some modifications to the original design and a decision of the cost was reached, construction began on April 27, 2006 and ended on May 10, 2013, when a 408-foot spire was placed atop the One World Trade Center, surpassing the Chicago Willis Tower(1,451 feet) in height and earning its rank as the tallest building in the U.S. The building opened its doors on November 3, 2014 when the first tenants moved in.

One World Trade Center facts include:

  • 104 stories
  • 1776 feet tall
  • 55 foot high office lobby
  • 2,000 pieces of glass cover the surface of the base
  • enclosed observation deck rising 1,250 feet above street level
  • 20 ton slab of granite with the words “the enduring spirit of freedom” inscribed on it and is laid in front of the tower