Like many great entrepreneurs, Warren A. Bechtel would take a few frightening steps toward failure before he found the path to success. In 1898, a nearly bankrupt 25-year-old Bechtel and his pregnant wife, Clara, left Peabody, Kansas, and headed 100 miles (161 kilometers) south in search of construction work and new opportunity. Thus began an epic journey that would span more than a century of building, five generations of his family, and eventually much of the globe.

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Who Is Bechtel: An Interactive History

Learn about the people and the projects that have shaped the company.

View a time period in Bechtel's History:

1898—1949: Building the Foundation

Building a Century

A look back at 100 years of Bechtel history.

I arrived, with a wife, two babies, a slide trombone, and a 10-dollar bill.

Warren Bechtel

  • 1919

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

  • 1921

    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

  • 1923

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    A Family Business

    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.

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

  • 1923
    • Introduced using track-laying tractors on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Natron Cut-off, Oregon.
    • Southern Pacific Railroad, Arizona: main line extension.
  • 1925

    Bowman Dam

    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.

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  • 1929

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

  • 1931 The Hoover Dam: Bechtel's First Megaproject

    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. 

    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

    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.

    • Completed in 1936, the Hoover Dam was Bechtel’s first megaproject
    • Construction began in 1931 and finished in 1936, two years ahead of schedule and under budget
    • Night falls on the dam’s intake towers
    • Hoover Dam attracts more than one million visitors each year
    • A view from the top of the dam to the power plant – located over 720 feet (some 220 meters) below
    • The dam’s turbines generate electricity for Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California.
    • One of the dam’s hydroelectric power transformers
    • Workers tunneling through the Black Canyon
    • Over 16,000 people worked on the project in 1931 – 1936; here workers use a pneumatic drill to shape abutments
    • Formed by the dam, Lake Mead is capable of holding more than 9 trillion gallons (34 trillion liters) of water

  • 1933

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    Stephen D. Bechtel Sr.

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

  • 1933

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    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. 

  • 1941

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

  • 1942

    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.

  • 1943

    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.

  • 1945

    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. 

  • 1947

    Trans-Arabian Pipeline

    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. 

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  • 1949

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

1950—1979: Building Industry

By 1958, Bechtel completed 2,000 projects in 40 states and in 30 countries on six continents.

 
  • 1954

    Bechtel begins to build three power plants for South Korea, doubling that country’s energy output.

  • 1957

    In Illinois, groundbreaking takes place for the Dresden nuclear plant, the largest nuclear power facility in the United States at the time. Bechtel helps design and construct the plant, which is completed in 1959.

  • 1958

    Swift Dam, Washington state: a hydroelectric project adds 204,000 kilowatts to the regional power supply

  • 1960

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    Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.

    Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. becomes president of Bechtel Corporation.

  • 1961

    Chocolate Bayou, Texas: among the largest petrochemical plants ever built.

  • 1962

    Athabasca Tar Sands in northern Alberta: the first large-scale operation to recover oil from enormous tar sand deposits.

  • 1964 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) System

    First mass-transit project: Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in the San Francisco area. In 1976, it becomes the first totally new rapid transit system to be completed in the United States in 40 years and significantly eases traffic.

  • 1968
    • Bechtel signs on to develop the West Irian copper project on the Indonesian part of the island of New Guinea. The copper, extracted from a deposit at an elevation of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), is transported to the coast by a 70-mile- (113-kilometer-) long slurry pipeline.
    • Bechtel begins the largest chemical plant to date, the Ponce petrochemical complex in Puerto Rico. It is capable of producing 3 billion pounds (1.36 billion kilograms) of chemicals each year.
  • 1969

    Bougainville copper project

    In Papua New Guinea, Bechtel begins work on the Bougainville copper project, which included pipelines and roads through a mountainous jungle—from sea level to 2,500 feet (762 meters)—as well as the implementation of one of the most complex telecommunications networks to date, linking the remote job site to the outside world.

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  • 1969

    Bechtel, as part of a joint venture, begins work on the monumental Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. 

  • 1971

    Bechtel begins work on the Washington, D.C., Metro transit project, which includes 98 miles (158 kilometers) of track. 

  • 1972

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    James Bay Hydro

    Bechtel helps manage and coordinate work on the huge James Bay hydroelectric complex; work continues into the mid-1980s

  • 1973

    Syncrude, Alberta: extraction complex.

  • 1976

    Palo Verde, Arizona: nuclear power plant.

  • 1977

    Algeria’s first LNG plant is dedicated. Built by Bechtel, the plant triples Algeria’s export capacity of liquefied natural gas.

  • 1978

    King Khalid International Airport, Saudi Arabia. The King Khalid project includes five terminal buildings, a control tower, a mosque, a ceremonial mall, and support and utility buildings, as well as a self-contained community for 3,000 people.

  • 1979

    Bechtel assists in the cleanup and recovery of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, developing several generations of robotic devices for use in decontaminating the damaged unit.

    Three Mile Island

    In March 1979, the Unit 2 reactor core of the nuclear power station at Three Mile Island (TMI) experienced a partial meltdown that damaged the fuel rods and possibly other internal reactor components. Radioactive materials were released from the core into the reactor coolant system and into the reactor building. An avalanche of frightening questions came crashing down in response. What were the true dangers of the accident? How close could one get to the reactor without being exposed? What were the conditions in the reactor?

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1980—1999: Engineering the Future

In 1980 Bechtel posted $11.3 billion in new bookings, more than double the previous year and the highest ever, to that point. Crews were at work on 132 major projects in 20 countries. 

  • 1981
    • We are awarded our first contracts to clean up radioactive government research sites in the Unites States.
    • The first gold is mined at the Ok Tedi gold and copper project. Bechtel, in a joint venture, provides engineering, procurement, and construction services. The project mines, processes, and ships more than a million tons of copper ore from an isolated mountaintop in Papua New Guinea between 1987 and 1994 alone.
  • 1982

    In New Zealand, Bechtel begins constructing the world’s first commercial facility to convert natural gas to gasoline.

  • 1983

    Bechtel provides start-up engineering and construction support for the completion and commercial operation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power facility in California.

  • 1986 Ankara-Gerede Motorway

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    Ankara-Gerede Motorway

    Bechtel begins work on the Ankara-Gerede Motorway in Turkey.

  • 1987 Channel Tunnel

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    Completing the Chunnel

    Bechtel gets involved in completing the Channel Tunnel, connecting England and France. One of the century’s largest engineering and construction projects and the world’s largest privately financed infrastructure project, the tunnel opens in 1994.

  • 1989 Boston Central Artery

    In a joint venture with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Bechtel begins construction on the Boston Central Artery/Tunnel project, America’s largest infrastructure job, which includes a freeway beneath Boston and a tunnel beneath Boston Harbor.

  • 1989

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    Riley P. Bechtel

    Riley P. Bechtel becomes president of Bechtel Group.

  • 1990 Hong Kong Airport

    Bechtel helps manage the Hong Kong Airport Core Programme—10 projects that include construction of bridges, tunnels, railroads, and an international airport at Chek Lap Kok, and extensive land reclamation.

  • 1991 Athens Metro

    A Bechtel-managed consortium begins an ambitious expansion and modernization of the Athens Metro subway system in time for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece.

  • 1991 Extinquishing the Kuwait Oil Fires

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    Extinguishing the Kuwait Oil Fires

    In the aftermath of the Gulf War, Bechtel leads the effort to put out 650 oil-well fires and rebuild Kuwait’s oil infrastructure, destroyed by Iraqi troops.

  • 1992

    A Bechtel joint venture is selected to provide design, procurement, and construction management services for a Motorola facility in Tianjin, China, that will produce a variety of electronic products and provide office space. Bechtel will work for Motorola in China for the rest of the decade

  • 1993 PGT-PG&E Pipeline

    PGT-PG&E Pipeline

    The 800-mile (1,287-kilometer) Bechtel-built PGT-PG&E natural gas pipeline expansion is completed.

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  • 1994

    As part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, Bechtel helps Russia develop a comprehensive chemical weapons destruction plan.

  • 1995
    • Bechtel is the first U.S. firm granted a construction license in China: Motorola semiconductor manufacturing facility.
    • El Abra, Chile: copper mine
    • Bechtel is selected as the prime contractor for Atlantic LNG, the Western Hemisphere’s first liquefied natural gas plant in 25 years. The plant, on the island of Trinidad, becomes the largest single investment ever in the Caribbean.
  • 1996

    Bechtel begins work on an $800 million, 440-megawatt power plant in Quezon Province in the Philippines.

  • 1998

    Bechtel

    • starts a 93-mile (150-kilometer) section of the Croatian Motorway.
    • begins a copper and zinc mine high in the Peruvian Andes at the Antamina Mine. 
    • begins the high-speed rail link connecting the Channel Tunnel to London, to provide seamless high-speed passage among London, Paris and Brussels.
    • takes on building the Jubilee Line extension of the London Underground.​
  • 1999

    Bechtel

    • works on mustard agent stockpile destruction at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. 
    • builds a shelter for 20,000 Kosovar refugees at Camp Hope, Albania.

2000—Today: Sustainable Progress

 Fundamental to everything we do is an unrelenting focus on delivering the highest levels of quality, safety, sustainability, performance, and value to our customers and other stakeholders.