Grand Coulee Dam Facts: Everything You Need To Know About It!

Oluniyi Akande
Nov 03, 2023 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Mar 18, 2022
Learn about this impressive structure with these incredible Grand Coulee Dam facts.

The Grand Coulee Dam is an impressive sight to behold.

The Grand Coulee Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Columbia River in the United States. It is the country's largest dam and one of the world's biggest!

It was built between 1933 and 1942, and it was the world's largest concrete structure at the time of its completion. It has since been surpassed by the Gorges Dam Site that helps produce electric energy in China.

The dam is more than 500 ft (152.4 m) high and more than 1,500 ft (457.2 m) long. If you're curious about this engineering marvel, then read on for some cool fun facts about it!

History Of The Grand Coulee Dam

The Grand Coulee Dam was finished in 1941 at the cost of more than $110 million dollars (about $15 billion today). It’s been called 'the greatest construction dam project ever undertaken by man.'

It helped revive the economy and solve flooding risks over Lake Roosevelt, as well as provide irrigation facilities. The architect of the Grand Coulee Dam was Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright was a world-renowned architect, and he designed many famous buildings, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Fallingwater House. He was also a part of the New Deal, and he helped design several other dams, including the Hoover Dam and the Fort Peck Dam.

In the early '30s, the New Deal was in full swing, and the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was seeking methods to stimulate the economy. One of his initiatives was the Public Works Administration (PWA), which was responsible for building large-scale public works projects like dams, bridges, and roads.

One of the architects involved with the PWA was Marcel Breuer. Breuer was a young architect who had recently emigrated from Germany.

He was quickly establishing a reputation in the United States, and he was one of the architects chosen to work on the Grand Coulee Dam.

Breuer's contribution to the Grand Coulee Dam was not just architectural. He also worked on the dam's northwest power plant and electrical system, which were two of the project's most essential components.

Construction began on June 13, 1933, and continued until October 15, 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw out his famous 'switch' to activate the first generators at the dam's power plant. When it was built, the Grand Coulee Dam had an output capacity that could meet all electricity demands for Washington State and Oregon combined!

This meant that no other dams were needed on either side of it.

The Grand Coulee Dam was initially intended to provide power for the expanding cities of the Pacific Northwest in the early '20s. The dam's construction site was overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and it was completed in 1942 at the cost of $49 million (approximately $700 million today).

The dam's hydroelectric power plant has a capacity of more than six million kilowatts (6 billion watts), making it the largest in North America. It also irrigates nearly 750,000 ac (3035.14 sq.

km) of farmland in the region. The dam was declared a National Historic Monument in 1992 and is now a popular tourist destination.

The dam's power plant has a capacity of over 6 billion watts, making it one of the biggest hydroelectric facilities in North America. The reservoir, called Lake Roosevelt after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who approved construction in 1933, has a capacity of about 13 million ac ft (16035240000 cu m).

The dam is 1 mi (1 km) wide and takes up an area the size of Rhode Island! It was built during World War II to provide power for aluminum production in nearby Wenatchee Valley (now known as Alcoa).

In addition to electricity and irrigation, the dam also provides flood control for the upper Columbia River. The Grand Coulee Dam was declared a National Historic Monument in 1992.

Architecture & Engineering Details

The construction of the Grand Coulee Dam was a massive undertaking, and it took over six years to complete.

Over 20,000 people were involved in the project's labor force, and they used over 2,000,000 tons (1,814,369.48 met ton) of concrete and 300,000 tons (272,155.422 met ton) of steel. Initially, it would not be able to irrigate the plateau surrounding the Grand Coulee because its reservoir would be too low like the Ice Dam once was.

The dam was built to be upgradable as the levels of the water change in the Columbia River.

In May 1934, work on the downstream Grand Coulee Bridge started, and in August, more substantial earthmoving began. For the dam's foundation, 22,000,000 cu yd (16,820,206.876 cu m) of earth and stone had to be dug out.

The ground was frozen and secured, allowing the building to proceed.

The dam's final contract bidding started on June 18, 1934 in Spokane, with four proposals submitted. The organization was known as MWAK, and their bid was $29,339,301, over 15% less than the $34.5 million option provided by the next bidder, Six Companies, Inc., who, at the time, was constructing the Hoover Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation was given permission to continue with the high dam proposal soon after, but it ran into difficulties transferring the design and negotiating a new contract with MWAK.

In June 1935, MWAK and Six Companies, Inc. decided to form Consolidated Builders Inc. and build the high dam for an extra $7 million. Six Companies had just completed the Hoover Dam and were close to completing the Parker Dam.

It also controls the flow of water along the Columbia River, making it possible to generate electricity at different times and places along the river depending on demand. This flexibility is what helps ensure a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for consumers across the Pacific Northwest!

The Grand Coulee Dam has four distinct power facilities, each with 33 hydroelectric units. The original left and right powerhouses each feature 18 main generators and three service generators, for a total installed capacity of 2,280,000,000 Watt.

The third power plant is equipped with six main generators totaling 4,215,000,000 Watt in installed capacity. The pump-generating plant consists of six pump-generators with a total installed capacity of 314,000,000 Watt.

In 2014, electricity was generated at a rate of 20,240,000,000,000 Wh. This means that the dam generates an average of 397,000,000 Watt of power, resulting in a total plant factor efficiency of 35%.

The Grand Coulee Dam spans nearly 5 mi (8 km) and is more than 550 ft (168 m) high from bedrock to the top of its spillway. Its reservoir, Banks Lake, has a storage capacity of nearly two million ac ft (2400x106 m³) and covers more than 200 sq mi (518 sq km) in Grant and Douglas counties.

The lake extends for about 50 mi (80 km) upstream of the dam. The dam was completed in 1941 and cost $49 million to build.

Adjusted for inflation, that would be more than $700 million today. Since its completion, the Grand Coulee Dam has produced over 350 trillion Wh of energy, enough to power about 30 million homes for a year!

The Grand Coulee Dam is an impressive sight, and it's definitely worth a visit if you're ever in the area!

Involvement Of The Government

The dam that Roosevelt envisioned would fit into his New Deal's Public Works Administration, creating employment and agricultural possibilities while also paying for itself. Roosevelt also sought to keep power rates low as part of a bigger public effort of prohibiting private control of utility firms that may charge excessive energy charges.

Several other dams were also built in places such as British Columbia. Many people, including the project's most ardent supporters, opposed a federal takeover, but Washington State lacked the resources to completely materialize the project.

Under the 1935 River and Harbors Act, Congress approved money for the enhanced high dam with Roosevelt's support and a Supreme Court judgment enabling the purchase of public property and Spokane tribe reservations. The dam's most major legislative barrier had been overcome.

In March 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Grand Coulee to dedicate the dam as 'a monument to the grit and foresight of our ancestors'.

The New Deal was a package of policies introduced by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the '30s to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. The New Deal included programs such as Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Works Progress Administration.


What is special about the Grand Coulee Dam?

The Grand Coulee Dam is special because it was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and was created to provide electricity and irrigation to the western United States. The dam was completed in 1941 and is still in use today.

It has a length of over 1 mi (1.6 km) and is 550 ft (168 m) high.

The Grand Coulee Dam was created to provide electricity and irrigation, but it also serves as a flood control dam. The dam has prevented over $11 billion in damage and has saved countless lives.


When was the Grand Coulee Dam built?

It is said to have been constructed between 1933 and 1941.


Why was the Grand Coulee Dam built?

The Grand Coulee Dam was built as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program, which aimed to support the United States' economic recovery following World War II. The dam was finished in 1941 and is still operational today. An added benefit was that it helped to cause flooding around Lake Roosevelt and its surrounding Regions.


Why is the Grand Coulee Dam important?

The Grand Coulee Dam is a hydroelectric power dam on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington, built to produce electricity and provide irrigation water. As part of his New Deal program to cure the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began this project in 1933; it was originally called the 'Boulder Canyon Project.'

It even helped in the flood control of Lake Roosevelt.


Who built the Grand Coulee Dam?

The Grand Coulee Dam was built by the United States Bureau of Reclamation between 1933 and 1942 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


How much power does the Grand Coulee Dam produce?

The United States' largest hydropower producer is the Grand Coulee Dam. The dam has a generating capacity of 6,809,000,000 Watt, enough to provide electricity for 2.4 million homes.


How tall is the Grand Coulee Dam?

The Grand Coulee Dam is 550 ft (168 m) high.


How long did it take to build the Grand Coulee Dam?

The Grand Coulee Dam was finished in 1942 after nine years of construction.


How much did the Grand Coulee Dam cost?

The Grand Coulee Dam cost $750 million to build.


How long will the Grand Coulee Dam last?

The Grand Coulee Dam is expected to last for centuries until the next Ice age is brought on. The dam was built with a concrete arch that is designed to withstand earthquakes and the forces of the river water.


What if the Grand Coulee Dam broke?

If the Grand Coulee Dam broke, it could potentially cause massive flooding in the surrounding areas. The dam is a significant element of the regional infrastructure, and it is also important for electricity generation and irrigation. If it were to fail, it could result in significant damage and loss of life.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

Oluniyi Akande picture

Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

Read full bio >