St. Francis Dam Disaster

A group of people and their car stand dwarfed by the shattered remains of the St. Francis Dam. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

In 1926, the St. Francis Dam began providing water to the growing city of Los Angeles, but the glory of the engineering feat was short-lived. On March 12, 1928, the dam burst, unleashing billions of gallons of water that wiped several small towns off the map.

St. Francis Dam

At the turn of the 20th century, Los Angeles went from a small village to a booming metropolis, and Department of Water chief engineer and general manager William Mulholland quickly realized the Los Angeles River would never keep up with the drought-prone region's demand for water. He proposed an aqueduct to transport water from Owens Lake some 200 miles away and a series of reservoirs near the city, the last of which to be built was St. Francis Dam. Construction of the dam, which was the world's largest arch-supported dam and held more than 12 billion gallons of water, was completed on May 4, 1926.