A California Dam that failed in 1928 with devastating results- and there’s one just like it, still in LA

Given the concern over the Oroville Dam, let’s not underestimate the danger. We can look to history for how bad this can become.

3 minutes before midnight on 12 March 1928, the St. Francis Dam, north of Los Angeles, failed.

Designed by William Mulholland, a self-taught engineer, the story of why the dam failed is in my short nonfiction book, which is free for download here.

It’s curious to note there is a sister dam just like it, the Mulholland Dam in LA, holding the Hollywood Reservoir. While it was greatly reinforced after the St. Francis disaster, it’s something to think about.

Never underestimate the power of water.

Here are some more images from the disaster. Mulholland at the site of the collapse the day after:


And below is the dam before

and after


  1. I thought of your book when I saw the news last night!

  2. I was ten years old in Fort Morgan, Colorado when the South Platte River flooded out east on the plains from Denver 90 miles to the west. The water source wasn’t a dam, but snow melt in June. The power and destruction of the debris carried along by the water is something that has stayed with me. Scary stuff.

    • There was also the Big Thompson Flood in Colorado. That was devastating. Water can be very, very powerful.

      • The Big Thompson Canyon is one narrow and scary drive (to me, anyway) without worrying about being trapped there during a flood. I wouldn’t want to live where hurricanes happen (probably a contributing factor for why I’m a landlubber living in the middle of nowhere USA).

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