Davis Dam has always been overshadowed by its Lower Colorado River siblings – the scale of Hoover Dam, the striking architecture of Parker Dam, the ability of Imperial Dam to move all that water to the farms to the south and west. Davis mostly generates power, and power generation has always been a bit of a stepchild in western river management. Federal surveyors had scoped out the site, across Pyramid Canyon just upstream of Laughlin and Bullhead City, as early as 1902, but until Hoover Dam was built upstream to knock down the river’s peak flows, there was no point even trying to put a dam there.
It’s named after Arthur Powell Davis, head of the Bureau of Reclamation from 1914 to 1932, and you’ve got to love this old-school Bureau rhetoric explaining just who this Davis fellow was:
Davis was one of a small group of men whose courage, foresight and vision sparked the beginning of Colorado River development.
You can almost hear the patriotic music swelling in the background.
Turning on the power at Davis Dam
Poor Davis Dam, Interior Secretary Oscar Chapman couldn’t be bothered to show up in person, so they rigged a way for him to turn the power plant on by remote control, which he did on Jan. 5, 1951, 65 years ago tomorrow:
On January 5, 1951, Reclamation placed Unit 1 of the Davis power plant into service, when, from his office in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Interior Oscar Chapman pressed a telegraph key that transmitted the signal to Davis Dam, energizing power operations. Two weeks later, Unit 2 started for the first time, but its thrust bearings quickly overheated and the equipment failed. Maintenance crews put Unit 2 back into service by mid-April 1951. The remaining three generating units went on line from mid-April to mid-June 1951. The Davis 230-kV switchyard and transmission lines were fully operating facilities by the end of 1951.
That’s from the Park Service/Interior’s Historic American Engineering Record survey of Davis Dam, pdf. The HAER surveys are a terrific record of our nation’s built environment, and it’s where I often turn (via the Library of Congress photo archive) when I’m looking for photos to illustrate blog posts.