The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began construction of Grand Coulee Dam in 1933 as the key structure in its multipurpose Columbia Basin Project. It has since become the linchpin in harnessing the second largest river in the United States. It took nine years to build Grand Coulee Dam, but even more years of battling and political maneuvering before construction started. While it was recognized early in the century that the Columbia Basin had rich farmland that needed only water to flourish, the method for providing that water caused much controversy. A Spokane group insisted upon a 134- mile gravity flow canal from Lake Pend Oreille to the Basin, while a Wenatchee/central Washington group favored building a big dam on the Columbia at Grand Coulee. The battle raged for 13 years. At its conclusion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized $60 million to get the dam project started.
In the Grand Coulee, life changed dramatically and quickly once work on the dam began in 1933. Not only did the undertaking of this massive project change forever the shape of the river, but overnight it created towns where nothing but sagebrush, sand and rocks had previously existed.
Thousands came to the Grand Coulee looking for work in the midst of the Depression. They worked around the clock to finish the dam by 1942.