Skip to content

Made in the USA: Five Iconic Construction Projects in American History


Posted on July 3rd, 2019

aerial view of hoover dam.

A while back, we wrote about 10 incredible feats in construction history. Today, in honor of U.S. Independence Day, we've compiled a list of some top construction projects in American history! After polling the team at Raken HQ, we narrowed it down to five noteworthy accomplishments. From functional to artistic, from innovative to revolutionary, these iconic structures and systems make us proud to be American.

1. Transcontinental Railroad - Cross-Country

construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Smack dab in the middle of the industrial revolution came the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad system in the United States. This monumental project began in the early 1860s, but the Civil War put a halt to the plans, so the railroad was completed in 1869 - which was still earlier than expected, and under budget. There were actually two companies competing to build this railroad: the Central Pacific Railroad Company, and the Union Pacific Railroad Company. The Central Pacific Railroad began in California, while Union Pacific was building from east to west. Eventually, the two railroads had to find a meeting place, and the railroad was completed in Utah with a celebratory golden railroad spike.

Prior to the construction of the railroad, the journey across the US was incredibly dangerous, and those moving west often chose to take the much longer journey by boat around South America's Cape Horn. By connecting the coasts, the railroad made cross-country travel easier, safer, and more affordable than ever, greatly contributing to the expanding number of families and individuals beginning new lives in the western United States.

2. Empire State Building - New York

construction of the empire state building.

The Empire State Building is certainly one of the United State's most famous skyscrapers, and with good reason. For almost 40 years, the Empire State Building was the world's tallest building at 1,250 feet, from the time of its completion in 1931 until 1970, when the World Trade Center stole the title. The Empire State Building has been featured in hundreds of movies and TV shows, and remains a major tourist attraction for those visiting New York City to this day. Interestingly enough, the building struggled to find tenants when it first opened during the thick of the Great Depression, but with the economic boom caused by World War II, the building easily gained occupancy.

Part of the reason we're such big fans over here at Raken is that the construction of the building was an amazing feat. Like the Transcontinental Roilroad, the Empire State Building was also completed before the deadline and under budget. The crews that built the Empire State Building worked tirelessly to get the project done in only 15 short months.

3. Hoover Dam - Nevada

construction of the hoover dam.

No list on impressive construction projects would be complete without the Hoover Dam. This massive concrete structure was finished in 1935, and similarly to the Empire State Building, was the tallest of its kind at the time. The engineering masterpiece was created to dam the Colorado River and create a source for hydroelectric power to people in the quickly-developing southwestern United States.

From a construction industry insider's perspective some of the most interesting aspects to the building of the Hoover Dam actually occurred before breaking ground. No single contractor was big enough to be able to take on the project, so there were actually six companies (aptly called Six Companies, Inc.) that joined forces to construct the dam. The dam also created around 21,000 jobs during the Great Depression, bringing folks from all around the country out west, which in turn helped populate entire new towns, including Boulder City, Nevada, which continues to thrive today.

4. Golden Gate Bridge - California

construction of the golden gate bridge.

As Californians, we may be a little biased, but we believe the Golden Gate Bridge is not only a true icon of the west coast, but also a globally recognized awe-inspiring architectural accomplishment. Completed in 1937, it was the world's longest suspension bridge for 44 years. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, also occurring during the Great Depression, helped create jobs for thousands of people facing unemployment in San Francisco. The bridge has withstood earthquakes, and extreme weather has only ever caused closure to traffic three times.

One of our favorite fun facts about the bridge's construction is that this project was actually the first time hard hats were actually a requirement on an American jobsite! Also, the bridge was almost painted with yellow and black stripes. We're definitely glad they decided to go with orange instead.

5. Gateway Arch - Missouri

construction of the gateway arch.

The newest structure on this list is St. Louis' famous Gateway Arch, which has only been around since 1962 - although the ultra-modern stainless steel design was created way back in 1947, when a contest was held for the conception of this project. This Midwestern marvel represents the area's significance in westward expansion in the United States, and although there are several impressive symbolic buildings in the U.S. that could certainly make a top-five list, the Gateway Arch is the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere.

Visitors can actually travel to the top of the 63 story-high arch via a tram that runs through the inside, and tours provide both stunning views of the nearby landscape, and history about the St. Louis area. Interestingly enough, the Gateway Arch is actually equally as wide as it is tall, standing at a proud 632 feet.

Proud to be American

These five amazing construction projects helped (literally) pave the way for millions of Americans to access new opportunities. From setting records to creating jobs, the Transcontinental Railroad, Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, and Gateway Arch are all symbols of American culture and history. It is also important to note that many of those who contributed to these projects were immigrants, who risked everything to start new lives in the United States. The medley of backgrounds, cultures, and our shared sense of national pride are what helped build this great nation, and today, we get to kick back, relax, and celebrate our freedom with our friends and family. Happy July 4th from your friends at Raken!

National Geographic

We use cookies to manage and improve your website experience.