Views of the Grand Coulee Dam, Columbia Basin Project, Washington, 1933-1937

Overview of the Collection

Mitchell, Hugh B. (Hugh Burnton), 1907-1996
Views of the Grand Coulee Dam, Columbia Basin Project, Washington
1933-1937 (inclusive)
49 photographic prints (1 box) ; 8 x 10 in.
Collection Number
Photographs of the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, 1933-1937.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2065431929
Fax: 2065431931
Access Restrictions

Entire collection can be viewed on the Libraries' Digital Collections website. Permission of Visual Materials curator is required to view originals. Contact Special Collections for more information.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Hugh Burton Mitchell was a liberal Democrat who represented Washington state in the United States Senate and House of Representatives during the 1940s and 1950s. His Congressional career was intermittent due to election defeats, but during these decades when he was not in Congress he stayed involved in public policy through lobbying, economic research, and public relations. Mitchell spent much of his time, both in Congress and independently, campaigning for a federal Columbia Valley Authority to manage hydroelectric power, and was heavily involved in other Pacific Northwest development issues.

Mitchell was born in 1907 in Great Falls, Montana, where he grew up, then attended Dartmouth College from 1926 to 1929. After graduation, Mitchell worked as a reporter, first for the Great Falls Ledger, then for the Everett News in 1931.

Mitchell’s Congressional career began in 1933 when he became the executive assistant to Representative Monrad C. Wallgren, whom he stayed with until 1944 when Wallgren became Governor of Washington. When Wallgren resigned from the Senate in January of 1945, Mitchell was appointed to take his place and served for two years, but lost in his 1946 Democratic campaign to retain his seat. As a Senator, Mitchell was involved in legislative attempts to ease the transition to a peacetime economy, and introduced legislation to create a Columbia Valley Authority, modeled on the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority, that would build a series of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River to produce public power. Mitchell’s desire to develop public, rather than private power also manifested itself in his campaign to develop hydroelectric facilities at Hell’s Canyon. Here he pushed for a higher, public dam instead of smaller, private dams. To fund public investment, he advocated a graduated net income tax at State Development. During his Senate tenure, Mitchell served on the following committees: Interstate Commerce, Banking and Currency, National Defense, Investigating, and Mines and Mining.

After losing his Senate election, Mitchell organized the League for Columbia Valley Authority and served as its president, conducting economic research and public relations. During the period from 1947 to 1948 while he served the League, Mitchell also founded Hugh B. Mitchell, Inc., Northwest Development Counsel, which was an industrial development and political consulting firm.

In 1948, Mitchell re-entered Congress when Washington’s first Congressional district (which at the time included most of Kitsap and King counties, including Seattle) elected him to the House of Representatives, then re-elected him in 1950. In the House Mitchell became known as a prolific bill writer, and in 1948, 1949, and 1950 campaigned for a Marshall Plan for Asia. Liberty Magazine cited him as one of its “Ten Honest Politicians” from the 82nd Congress. In the House he was a member of the Rules, Banking and Currency, and Labor and Education committees.

In 1952, Mitchell campaigned unsuccessfully for governor, then lost Congressional races in 1954 and 1958. Smear attacks on Mitchell during the McCarthy era began in 1950 when during the primary campaign a Seattle city council member suggested he was a Communist. His opponent in the 1952 gubernatorial election, Arthur Langlie, also leveled the same charge in what many observers called a dirty campaign. After his Congressional election loss in 1954 which featured more campaign smear tactics, Mitchell sued his opponent, Tom Pelly, for conspiracy to libel. The two settled out of court for $7,500 in what Mitchell called a “moral victory.”

In 1953, after losing his campaign for governor, Mitchell began working for Alaska Van and Storage Company, which was affiliated with Martin Van Lines of Seattle. He also served as a director of two Seattle manufacturing companies, and was the director of the Hell’s Canyon Association. He died in 1996 at the age of 89.

Historical BackgroundReturn to Top

Construction on the Grand Coulee Dam in east central Washington occurred from 1933 to 1942 as part of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. The dam is 168 m (550 ft.) high and 1,592 m (5,223 ft.) long and impounds Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (243 km/151 miles long). It is used for flood control, river regulation, irrigation, and power production; its hydroelectricity-generating capacity, which totals nearly 6,500 MW, makes it one of the world's greatest hydroelectric installations. The Grand Coulee Dam makes possible the Columbia Basin Project, the largest single reclamation project ever created in the United States. In all, the project area of over 2,500,000 acres is roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware. The total includes 333 miles of main canals, 3,498 miles of drains and waste-ways, and four large dams besides the Grand Coulee. In addition, there is an enormous pump-generating plant near the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (the reservoir formed by Grand Coulee Dam).

The first water was spilled over the Grand Coulee Dam, on June 1, 1942, making it the largest concrete dam in North America. Nine years earlier, on July 16, 1933, the first stake was driven into place, initiating the construction of this immense project. When Franklin Roosevelt's New Dealers began the Columbia Basin Project in 1933, they hoped to create a "Planned Promised Land," where displaced Dust Bowl refugees would find homes on small farms of about 80 acres each. Before any of the land received water, however, World War II and the rapid changes that it brought altered this vision. The Columbia Basin Project, as it emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, differed from the blueprint drawn two decades earlier. The changes continued into the 1980s and 1990s.

The power and the irrigation provided by the Columbia Basin Project make it an important element in the West's economy. Grand Coulee Dam is famous because of the electricity it has generated since 1942, and it is a popular attraction, visited by thousands annually.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This collection consists of photographs of the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam from 1933-1937.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

View this collection in digital format

Restrictions on Use

Restrictions may exist on reproduction, quotation, or publication. Contact Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries for details.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Donated by Hugh B. Mitchell.

Processing Note

Processed by Jill M. Dalager, 2003.

Collection title taken from album title page.

The photographs were originally bound together with post-binding to make an album. The album was taken apart, but the order of photographs has been retained. The item numbers correspond to the page number of the former album.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder item
1/1 1   Title page, "Views of the Grand Coulee Dam Columbia Basin Project, Washington: Under Construction by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Coulee Dam, Washington" 1933?
1/1 2   Columbia River, Kettle Falls 1933?
1/1 3   Columbia River, general view in reservoir area 1933?
1/1 4   Grand Coulee Dam site, looking west December 1933
1/1 5   Grand Coulee Dam site, looking west April 1937
1/1 6   Grand Coulee Dam site, looking east December 1933
1/1 7   Grand Coulee Dam site, looking east May 1937
1/1 8   East end, Grand Coulee Dam, concrete placing trestles and bedrock foundation blocks January 1937
1/1 9   Anchoring to granite, the east abutment at Grand Coulee Dam 1937?
1/2 10   "Digging in," the first shovel December 1933
1/2 11   The President's visit August 4, 1934
1/2 12   Builder's quarters, government camp in the foreground, contractor's camp across the river 1936
1/2 13   Government camp and highway bridge, with west cofferdam, concrete placing trestle, and west conveyor upstream 1936
1/2 14   West cofferdam, length 3,000 feet, height 115 feet, 17,000 tons of steel piling, constructed in ninety days March 31, 1935
1/2 15   Driving steel piling, west cofferdam 1934?
1/2 16   Excavating overburden 1934?
1/2 17   Excavating behind west cofferdam August 1935
1/2 18   Belt conveyor, transporting excavated material to Rattlesnake Canyon, one and a half mile distance between 1934 and 1935?
1/2 19   Conveyor stacker, discharging excavated material in Rattlesnake Canyon between 1934 and 1935?
1/3 20   Grand Coulee Dam, Governor Clarence D. Martin formally placing first concrete in dam December 6, 1935
1/3 21   Concrete placing, top of dam 280 feet about trestle deck January 1936
1/3 22   Concrete in dam, one millionth yard placed Aug. 14, 1936 June 1936
1/3 23   Workers in concrete 1936?
1/3 24   Bedrock behind west cofferdam between 1937 and 1937?
1/3 25   Five yard shovel loading a twenty yard buggy between 1935 and 1937?
1/3 26   Night at Grand Coulee 1937?
1/3 27   [Photo missing] between 1935 and 1937?
1/3 28   Upstream face Grand Coulee Dam, 1,550,000 cubic yards of concrete in place 1936?
1/3 29   West end Grand Coulee Dam, concrete placing trestles and cranes 1937?
1/4 30   The checkerboard, the pouring of concrete into interlocking blocks permits grouting of contraction joints to form monolithic mass 1937?
1/4 31   "House of Magic," one of two concrete mining plants, capacity 8,000 cubic yards per day each 1935?
1/4 32   Cooling pipe
Water will be circulated through 2,000 miles of cooling pipe embedded in the dam to cool and shrink the concrete and thus facilitate grouting of contracting joints.
1/4 33   Facilities for visitors
Some 200,000 visitors in 1936 inspected a model of the dam and from sheltered seats close to the work on each side of the river, viewed the construction work and had it explained over a public address system.
1/4 34   "Ice Dam," muck flowing into deep depression in bedrock, stopped by artificial foam arch dam 1934?
1/4 35   Deepest foundation depression, ice dam restraining much from flowing into pit between 1935 and 1936?
1/4 36   Gravel pit, deposit from which concrete aggregates are excavated by electric shovels and belt conveyers at a rate of 2,500 tons per hour between 1935 and 1936?
1/4 37   Source of supply for the eleven million yards of sand and gravel required for Grand Coulee Dam 1934?
1/4 38 Columbia River diverted
Two crossover cofferdams divert stream through low sections in west portion of dam while east portion is unwatered for preparation of foundation.
1/4 39   Nearly 2,000,000 cubic yards of cold concrete in west end of dam, with Columbia River diverted through low sections 1937?
1/5 40   The bucket, downstream face of spillway with powerhouse foundation beyond 1937?
1/5 41a   Typical spillway section, Grand Coulee Dam 1937?
1/5 41b   Typical powerhouse section, Grand Coulee Dam 1933?
1/5 42   Grand Coulee Dam, powerhouse and pumping plant 1933?
1/5 43   Birdseye view looking south 1933?
1/5 44   Grand Coulee Dam cranes between 1933 and 1934?
1/5 45   Excavation below river level, excavation activities in unwatered riverbed section March 1937
1/5 46   Below river, drillers safe from surging waters behind a protecting cofferdam 1937?
1/5 47   The rising structure, west bank portion of the Grand Coulee Dam between 1936 and 1937?
1/5 48   Sagebrush between 1933 and 1937?
1/5 49   Blossoms between 1933 and 1937?

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Building sites--Washington (State)--Grand Coulee Dam Region--Photographs
  • Concrete construction--Washington (State)--Grand Coulee Dam Region--Photographs
  • Dam construction--Washington (State)--Grand Coulee Dam Region--Photographs
  • Dams--Washington (State)--Photographs
  • Hydroelectric power--Washington (State)
  • Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)

Personal Names

  • Mitchell, Hugh B. (Hugh Burnton), 1907-1996--Photographs

Corporate Names

  • Columbia Basin Project (U.S.)--Photographs

Geographical Names

  • Columbia River Valley--Photographs
  • Columbia River--Photographs
  • Grand Coulee Dam (Wash.)--Photographs