The Bonneville Dam as a Symbol of Hope

From Roll on Columbia, Roll On

Roll on, Columbia, roll on.
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn,
So, Roll on, Columbia, roll on!

At Bonneville now there are ships in the locks,
The waters have risen and cleared all the rocks,
Ship loads of plenty will steam past the docks,
So, Roll on, Columbia, Roll on!

-Woody Guthrie Roll On Columbia “The Columbia River Collection”

“From the beginning, Bonneville Dam has symbolized hope. In a time when jobs were scarce and hope was virtually nonexistent, Bonneville Dam meant a well-earned day’s pay to thousands of men and women. It meant a rich rebirth for the communities nearby, and for an entire region badly in need of an infusion of federal dollars. As the dam grew out of the riverbed, foot by foot, day after day, it became a towering monument to the triumph of the working man over economic depression.”

-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bonneville Lock and Dam in Celebration of our 50th Year

Woody Guthrie writes The Columbia River Collection of music: 1941

In order to gain public support for the dam, the Bonneville Power Administration decided upon a publicity campaign which included the creation of two motion pictures, and the help of various radio stations and folk artists. Twenty-eight year old folk singer/ballad-maker Woody Guthrie accepted the BPA request to write songs about the Columbia River and the Bonneville Dam. Guthrie supported the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dam projects because they aimed to make electric power cheap and affordable for all people in the area. He exalts the practice of transforming nature's power into human power, and creating "permanent" human markings in natural landscapes. Guthrie moved to Washington to watch the dam being built and speak to the laborers. He glorifies the dams of the Pacific Northwest as symbols of human advancement and victory over adverse circumstances, ranking them with the building of the Egyptian pyramids and the American Revolution. "The Columbia," released in 1949, included 26 songs inspired by the Bonneville Dam project.

"Projects will lead to development of the area by attracting new industries, creating new payrolls, providing new markets, and supplying power to urban and rural areas in sufficient quantities and at low enough rates to improve the standard of living of hundreds of thousands of people."
-Dr. Raver, 2nd BPA administrator 1939-54 (Springer, 1976)

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