1898–1949: The formative years

“I arrived,” W. A. recalled, “with a wife, two babies, a slide trombone, and a 10-dollar bill.”

Visit whoisbechtel.com for an interactive experience of our long history.

1898–1930: Building the foundation


First major non-railroad construction project: Klamath Highway in Northern California.


First job for a large power utility: the Caribou Water Tunnel in Northern California, part of the Caribou Power Plant, which will generate 75 megawatts of electricity. 


Introduced using track laying tractors on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Natron Cut-off, Oregon. 

Family Involvement

Pictured (left to right): W.A. Bechtel and sons Steve, Ken, and Warren Jr.

W. A. Bechtel Co. was a family business from the beginning. W. A. was determined to build a company that would allow him to pass along to his children not just financial security and physical assets, but a sense of responsibility and obligation to company employees and associates, and to the enterprise. He took immense pleasure in the increased interest and involvement of Bechtel family members. 


Southern Pacific Railroad, Arizona: main line extension.


First foray into the dam-building business: Bowman Dam, California, is completed. The construction site is so remote that the company is forced to construct a camp—complete with a hospital, a hundred head of cattle, a slaughterhouse, and storage facilities—to sustain the crew for the winter.


First pipeline: The 8-mile- (13-kilometer-) long Tres Piños–Milpitas in California begins operation. 

The Hoover Dam

1931 Bechtel's first megaproject

Hoover Dam—The Hoover Dam project was too big for any one company. So W. A. Bechtel helped form a consortium calling itself Six Companies, Inc. W. A. knew the heads of the consortium companies as friends and business associates, having been in partnerships with most of them. 

The Hoover Dam was ​officially dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in September 1935—represents a pivotal event in the history of Bechtel. There have been bigger projects, and there will be still bigger jobs in years to come. But never again will Bechtel be involved with a project that so profoundly shaped our company's sense of itself. 

Between 1934 and 1938, the Six Companies, Inc., partnership built Parker Dam across the Colorado River; operating as Columbia Construction Co., they corralled the waters of the Columbia River behind the concrete arches of Bonneville Dam and built Ruby Dam and Grays Harbor jetties in Washington State; and as Six Companies of California, they constructed a section of the Oakland–Contra Costa highway. Utah-Bechtel-Morrison-Kaiser Co. lined the Moffatt Water Tunnel and built Taylor Park Dam in Colorado

Hoover Dam was a make-or-break proposition for my grandfather. It became the birthplace of many of the great traditions of the present Bechtel organization. —Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., 1982


Steven D. Bechtel Sr. becomes president of W.A. Bechtel Co.


San Francisco: Oakland Bay Bridge: These were times when attempting the impossible became standard procedure, and the Bay Bridge is a perfect example—the plans called for bridge piers to be set deeper than anyone had ever attempted. And seldom had anyone confronted currents as unpredictable or winds as blustery as those on San Francisco Bay. The Bechtels formed Bridge Builders, Inc., allying themselves with Six Companies partner Henry Kaiser, one of W. A.’s most trusted collaborators. They added several old-line eastern firms, including some of the most experienced deep-caisson builders Steve could find. 


Bechtel-McCone-Parsons wins a contract to engineer and build a hydrogenation plant in Richmond, California. The plant is BMP's first refinery as well as one of the first petroleum refineries in the West.


First overseas project: the 75-mile (121-kilometer) Mene Grande pipeline in Venezuela. The pipeline transports oil from the interior to tankers on the coast.

1941–1949: Bechtel Through WWII

calship and marinship

First shipbuilding job: Calship delivers 467 cargo ships and Marinship cranks out 15 Liberty ships and 78 tankers and oilers. 


As part of a Department of War–mandated project to shore up U.S. defenses in Alaska, Bechtel interests begin work on Canol, a  1,430-mile (2,300-kilometer) pipeline across Canada and Alaska. The pipeline transports oil from Canadian fields to a new refinery.


Bechtel’s first work in the Middle East: Bahrain Petroleum Co. hires BMP to build a refinery capable of producing 150,000 barrels of oil per day.


First major power contract: Equipment changes for Southern California Edison; engineers must convert power equipment operating on a 50-cycle current to a 60-cycle current. 


Bechtel begins work on the 1,068-mile (1,719-kilometer) Trans-Arabian pipeline (Tapline), which will transport oil across Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon to tankers in the Mediterranean. 


First nuclear reactor: Near Arco, Idaho, Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EBR-1) is the first nuclear reactor to generate electricity from atomic energy.