Subtopic : Starting a Second Century: The Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition, 1905: Electricity and Industry
Themes: People and the Environment, Social Relations, Politics and Government
Hydropower held the promise to promote manufacturing. Oregon could turn its raw materials into high value products at home rather than shipping them out of state and buying them back as finished products at much higher prices. Hopes centered on Bonneville Dam in the 1930s. Port of Portland Commissioner John H. Lewis put the situation simply: “that city of the Northwest which first captures and uses the greatest amount of Columbia River power, will be the largest city. The fight for industrial supremacy will be over when all the Columbia River power is distributed.” Fighting against Seattle’s claims on Bonneville power, the Portland Chamber of Commerce vigorously argued that its electricity was a local commodity that should not be burdened with the cost of extensive transmission lines.
What Portland offered during the dam-building era of the mid-twentieth century was a vision of industrial development at the gateways to the Columbia River Gorge—at the head of navigation at The Dalles and along the Columbia River near Portland. A confidential report to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, for example, reported that the Oregon Commonwealth Federation “agreed that industry should not be located in the Columbia Gorge, but that if it came in, it should locate between Camas [Washington] and Rainier [Oregon].” Portlanders pointed out the abundance of industrial sites on the North Portland peninsula. Lower power rates along the entire lower Columbia River, said the Portland City Club, would benefit Portland’s economy while raising “no danger of marring the scenic or recreational features of the Columbia Gorge by the location of industrial plants.” The Oregon State Planning Board, Mayor Joseph Carson, and even Portland’s electric utilities all found themselves in basic agreement with urbanist Lewis Mumford, who specifically suggested that the new electricity be used to build a greenbelt town where the Gorge widens out at its west end near the Sandy River.
The results of industrial development after 1940 confirmed the Portland agenda. The new wartime aluminum plants that were by far the largest industrial offspring of Bonneville Dam were located just outside the Gorge at Troutdale, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, and downstream at Longview, Washington. Later industrial development at The Dalles after the construction of The Dalles Dam would again take place outside the scenic zone.
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Oregonians drew hydropower from dams on the Deschutes River, the tributaries of the Willamette, and especially the Columbia and Snake rivers. The generating capacity of Bonneville Dam was overshadowed by The Dalles Dam, McNary Dam, and especially Grand Coulee Dam.
© Carl Abbott, 2004
Themes: People and the Environment,Social Relations,Politics and Government
Regions: Columbia River
Author: Carl Abbott
Portland offered a vision of industrial development at the gateways to the Columbia Gorge during the mid-twentieth-century’s dam-building era.
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