8 Most Famous Dams In The World

Dams are functional works of art that have become commonplace all over the world. There are small dams that only people in the immediate know about and then there are larger, more impressive dams. There are also those that are famous dams for various reasons.  Here are the top 8 most famous dams in the world.

8. Grand Coulee Dam – United States

This dam is an obvious choice for any list of famous dams. It is many times called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Woody Guthrie, a folksinger, made this dam memorable in his song released in 1941.

It was built between 1933 and 1942. It is located northwest of Spokane, WA and was build to meet the power and water needs of a growing United States population.

Its reservoir is just as famous as the 5,223 foot Grand Coulee Dam. The reservoir is 130 miles long and known as the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. It is a summer tourist hot spot. The creation of this masterpiece required 11 towns to be flooded and submerged to forever reside at the bottom of the reservoir.

Grand Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam

7. Redridge Steel Dam – Michigan, United States

This dam was completed in 1901 and is considered a great accomplishment and one of the most famous dams in history. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Redridge Steel Dam proudly stands across the Salmon Trout River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was originally built to supply water to mills and mining operations nearby during the copper mining boom. This buttress dam is believed to be only one of three steel dams built in the United States.

The engineering of the dam uses a series of flat and curved supports to push against the water from the downstream side. This is a popular spot for industrial architecture and design students from all over the world.

Redridge Steel Dam
Redridge Steel Dam

6. Fort Peck Dam – Montana, United States

This dam was authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 which was during the Great Depression. The building of this dam represented an end to hunger and the return of normalcy to the thousands of men who helped build the Fort Peck Dam in Montana.

This hydraulically filled dam is one of the most famous dams in the United States because of what it symbolized; a push to end the Great Depression. The construction of the dam was severely hampered by the harsh climate of Montana and the rough terrain that had to be crossed to get to the work site.

The achievement of the Fort Peck Dam was so great that famed photographer, Margaret Bourke-White, traveled to the dam. Her photograph of the dam became the first cover story of Life Magazine.

Fort Peck Dam
Fort Peck Dam

5. Itaipu Dam – Border Between Brazil and Paraguay

This is a newer dam, constructed between 1971 and 1984, but it still makes the list of famous dams. It was built across the Parana River that borders Brazil and Paraguay. It is a large dam that is about 5 miles in length and more than 640 feet high.

The dam supplies enough electricity to power nearly 20% of Brazil’s population and more than ¾ of Paraguay’s population. During construction a section of the Parana River had to be re-routed. This required the move of about 50 million tons of earth and rock to clear a path for the river so the dam could be built on a dry riverbed. The American Society of Civil Engineers named the Itaipu Dam as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

Itaipu Dam
Itaipu Dam

4. Grande Dixence Dam – Switzerland

Switzerland earned a spot on the list of famous dams for the Grande Dixence Dam located in the mountains of the Val d’Herens Valley. It is a tourist attraction and very popular for hikers since there are so many trails that criss-cross the countryside near it.

It was completed in 1964 is said to weigh about 15 million tons; it is thought to weigh more than the Great Pyramid at Giza. The water that is in the Grande Dixence Dam’s Lac des Dix reservoir comes from glaciers instead of rivers.

Grande Dixence Dam - view 1
Grande Dixence Dam – view 1
Grande Dixence Dam - view 2
Grande Dixence Dam – view 2

3. Oroville Dam – California, United States

Located near Oroville, CA, the Oroville Dam is considered one of the famous dams because it is the tallest and largest earth-filled dam in the United States. It is a rock-fill embankment dam and played a major role in moving water from northern California to the drier southern California.

This dam was constructed to withstand the strongest earthquake that could occur in the region. It was dubbed “the dam that talks back” because engineers had hundreds of gauges and instruments installed that measured the changes in water pressure and the settlement of the earth that could indicate seismic activity is occurring.

Oroville Dam
Oroville Dam

2. Hoover Dam – United States

The Hoover dam is among the famous dams of the world. It was built between 1931 and 1936 and is 726 feet high. The base is 660 feet thick and the top is 45 feet thick. This dam holds back Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the United States.

During the construction of the Hoover Dam, it is estimated that over 100 people died. The first man to die during the construction process was a United States Bureau of Reclamation employee named J.G. Tierney. He fell into the Colorado River and drowned on December 20, 1922 while surveying the site prior to the actual start of construction.

J.G. Tierney’s son, Patrick W. Tierney, is said to be the last man to die during the construction of the dam. He died exactly 13 years after his dad on December 20, 1935. He fell to his death from one of the intake towers. This phenomenon of father and son deaths has helped to make this dam famous.

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam

1. Three Gorges Dam – China

This dam is named for the amazing limestone cliffs that are along the Qutang, Wu and Xiling gorges and harnesses the power of the Yangtze River, a 3,900 mile long river in China. The Three Gorges Dam has the capacity to generate 22,000 megawatts of electricity. This is a great feat for a country that relies heavily on coal for its energy source.

Three Gorges Dam - one of the most famous dams in the world
Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges Dam - Another View
Three Gorges Dam – Another View

This dam made the first of the list for famous dams because it is the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant and has stirred enormous controversy. To construct this monstrous dam, hundreds of villages, towns and cities had to be flooded to create the 403 square mile reservoir. This forced more than a million people to have to relocate. There is much of the surrounding area that experiences erosion and earthquakes, plus landslides. The river itself has become a cesspool in many places because the sediment from landslides and erosion is settling rather than being moved downriver. This is causing severe pollution and murky, stagnant water.

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