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SHSND Photobook - Digitized images from State Archives

Digital Horizons

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Federal Depository Library Program

Chronicling America

Manuscripts by Subject - Politics /Government - #11084

Title:    U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Garrison Dam Construction Films

Dates:  ca. 1947-1960

Collection Number:

4 feet

Abstract: Consists of 58 films or film segments produced by or for the Corps of Engineers ca. 1947-1960. Six films relate to projects in other states; two to McNary Dam in Oregon and four to Quake Lake in Montana. The films range in length from under 1.5 minutes to approximately 30 minutes. All of the film is 16mm and all has been transferred to a high quality digital format. Except for some completed programs, the film has no sound. Most film was shot in color; however, a number of films are in black and white.

Provenance: The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Garrison Dam Construction Films from the Corps Riverdale, ND office in the 1980s.  Gerald Newborg digitized, inventoried, and described the collection in 2010-2011.

Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights: Copyrights to this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs. Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code or an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.

Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.


The Garrison Dam is one of the largest earth-filled dams in the world that is used for irrigation, recreation, flood control, and power generation. Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Pick-Sloan Plan for flood control on the Missouri River, which included six main-stem dams and reservoirs from Montana through South Dakota, construction of Garrison Dam/Lake Sakakawea began in 1947 and was completed in 1954 at a cost of about 300 million dollars. Garrison Dam is the fifth largest earthen dam in the United States.

Dam Type – Rolled Earth Fill
Height of Dam – 210 feet
Length of Dam – 2.5 miles
Width at Base - .5 miles
Width at Top – 60 feet

Some 66.5 million cubic yards of dirt, equal to 9 million truckloads, and 1.5 million cubic yards of concrete were used to build Garrison Dam.

The Powerhouse consists of five generating units with a total capacity of 583.3 megawatts. These generators produce 1.8 to 2.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The water released through the 28-gate spillway can attain a speed of 75 mph. Electrical power is transmitted from the project through seven transmission lines to various substations and is marketed by Western Area Power Administration at the Watertown Dispatch Office in South Dakota. The dam's reservoir, Lake Sakakawea, has a shoreline of 1,350 miles, making it the third largest reservoir by storage volume in the U.S.

Construction forced the dislocation of residents of the Missouri River Valley above the dam, with the greatest impact on the Three Affiliated Tribes who had lived and farmed in the valley for centuries. Some of the richest farm land in the state of North Dakota was inundated by the construction of the reservoir.

The Corps of Engineers constructed a headquarters town at Riverdale near the dam site. This remained a government town until 1986 when the federal government relinquished control. For details on the transfer of Riverdale from federal control, see and follow the link to the Garrison Dam/Lake Sakakawea News Archive, Riverdale transfer.

The films in this collection were transferred to the State Historical Society of North Dakota at the time Riverdale was transferred from federal control.

Corps of Engineers Garrison Dam Film Collection

The film is grouped in artificial categories with the hope that it will facilitate access for researchers.
1. Completed films (generally with sound track)
2. Construction footage. Generally raw film and work prints. NS.
3. Other topical films. Consists of footage that may be of interest beyond dam construction.
4. Film that does not pertain to North Dakota and Garrison Dam.
Times are approximate. NS = no sound.

1. Completed films. The following films are the most useful for most researchers. They were produced as information pieces by or for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to report on the activities of the Corps or progress on the construction of Garrison Dam.

Foundation for Defense 362MB MP4 Video 14:12 B/W Sound
World-wide work of Corps.

“Garrison Dam and Reservoir Project” 426MB MP4 Video 23:17 Color Sound
Garrison Dam and Construction on video list. Begins with titling and US map showing Missouri Basin and Pick-Sloan Plan; aerial of the site and early earth work and pan of the site from the ground; 1946 site dedication with General Pick on platform; October 1947 first stripping of top soil (Col. Siebold gives signal); b&w aerial map of site with components labeled; access highway to site near Riverdale; rail spur construction; Riverdale aerial; ground view of houses being built, town scenes, shops and administration building under construction, church, hospital, hotel, theater, water tower; bridge over river - hot rivet throwing on bridge construction; power house excavation; coal being stockpiled; winter earthmoving and drilling; earth moving for test tunnel; test tunnel and men in tunnel; main embankment excavation area 1948; earth moving equipment; timber movement, sawing (winter) saw mill; embankment area - aerial and from hill (good view of what river looked like); graphic of the dam; earth movers constructing embankment - 15 cu. yd. Euclids, dozers, rollers, ripper; soil testing sequence in field and in truck lab; pile driving; cut off trench; back filling of trench; downstream graveling; intake area aerial and ground (another view of valley); earth moving; graphic explains closing of dam; explanation of benefits.

Garrison Dam Takes Shape 1950 417MB MP4 Video 22:34 Color Sound
Opens with map and aerials of tunnel area; spillway earth moving; moving lignite coal; embankment earthwork explained and shown; drain construction; extensive segment on land acquisition, Roy Dory, supervisor; visit by Josephson to the Gregg farm; explanation of the paperwork and legal process; “no one has refused the process”, 1950 land acquisition figure. There is no explanation of land acquisition from American Indians.
Scenes of tunnels and powerhouse area; inside tunnel - scenes of mining in tunnel (20 ft/day); setting steel ribs; drilling for a blast; concrete batch works for tunnel lining (process explained; testing concrete); pumping in the concrete tunnel lining; scene of finished three-foot-thick lining. Intake structure construction early phases; cement forms going up; batch works for concrete, conveyors; concrete transfer rail cars; buckets dump concrete, men finish and tamp. Scenes are from 1950. Embankment work. Conclusion scenes and explanation of what is left to do. Film is warped and initial sound is uneven.

Garrison Story 300MB MP4 Video 16:19 Color Sound
Begins with map of Central Plains basin; scenes of floods on the Missouri including aerials; erosion from water and wind; 1944 Flood Control Act and Pick-Sloan Plan. Glimpse of Fort Randall; map view and explanation; scenes of Riverdale and construction. Access bridge over the river built first; model showing phases of construction; cut-off trench and piling; intake and power house and outlet earth moving; tunnels (eight - 5 power and three overflow), tunnel construction explained. Dates and construction times; contractors and their equipment; excavation on spillway area; conveyer loader. Trucks (Euclids) praised; packing of dam face; water wagons; motor graders; intake channel dirt to east bank; lunch break line-up of Euclids. Stage three model; model used to show how lake will back up; recreation benefits mentioned. The film was distributed by North Dakota State University.

Garrison on the Missouri 1950 528MB MP4 Video 20:48 Color Sound
Does not have opening title/credits. Each of the “Garrison on the Missouri” titles explains the background and purposes of the Pick-Sloan Plan and the way in which the dam is being built. Garrison on the Missouri 1950 includes a segment on land acquisition which is similar (same footage used) as Garrison Dam Takes Shape 1950. The other two films with the same title are not clearly dated. The numeral in Garrison on the Missouri-1 is only used to distinguish it from the other films with the same title.

Garrison on the Missouri (#39) 404.9MB MP4 Video 21:47 Color Sound

Garrison on the Missouri-1 378MB MP4 Video 14:53 Color Sound

Reservoirs of Recreation 468MB MP4 Video 18:37 Color Sound
Highlights recreational opportunities of all the main-stem reservoirs on the Missouri River, emphasizing boating, fishing, and swimming.

Corps Activities 274MB MP4 Video 14:40 B/W Sound
Chief of Engineers, Major General Sturgis talks about what the Corps of Engineers is doing world-wide and at home (river projects). Scenes of Corps projects with narration; ships at sea going to Greenland to build an air base; planes, jets, projects elsewhere. Sturgis recounting projects and purpose; background on where men are trained. 1950 scenes of Korean work of Corps; “improvise” – destroying bridges; road building; bridge repair. Corps schooling scenes; airlift. Sturgis: dual civil/military role. Civil projects: Garrison Dam construction (narration), Ft. Peck Dam; Ft. Randall Dam (President Eisenhower gives telegraph signal); Mississippi locks; waterways lab; models of river basin. Sturgis conclusion.

Spots on Water Safety (#11) 34MB MP4 Video 2:02 B/W Sound
Television commercials promoting water safety.

2. Construction footage. Raw film footage intended for use in completed films. Some of the segments appear in the completed films listed above. Some of the film, because it was not used repeatedly, is in better condition than the completed film, but that is not always true.

1952 Construction 152MB MP4 Video 8:29 Color NS

1955 Originals-Miscellaneous Construction 409MB MP4 Video 22:40 Color NS
Sunrise; Four Bears bridge; landscape; power lines; dam; visitors; cars lined up; boating; aerial shots of dam and construction; road over dam, freshly paved; more construction and pouring concrete.

Aerials of Project (#45) 120MB MP4 Video 6:46 Color NS

Aggregate Reclaim Tunnel (#15) 166MB MP4 Video 9:06 B/W NS

Animated Subjects Describing Dam (dam model) 104MB MP4 Video 5:40 Color NS

Bridge and Other Construction (#29) 310MB MP4 Video 17:16 Color NS
At ca. 14 minutes shows shots of Four Bears Bridge. More woven lumber mat and dumping rock.

Bridge at Intake 190MB MP4 Video 10:41 Color NS
Film of construction bridge and intake structure under construction; Riverdale; earthmoving.

Calanyx Hole drilling (#42) 46MB MP4 Video 2:36 Color NS
Possibly calyx hole drilling. A calyx drill is a rotary core drill with hardened steel shot for cutting rock. Film shows close up of bit and drilling; testing of materials, possibly of how well earth is packed.

Coffer Dam upstream (#30) 35MB MP4 Video 2:01 Color NS

Construction (#54) 92MB MP4 Video 5:11 Color NS
Shows powerhouse area under construction (spotty film); earthmoving with twin caterpillars; house moving down road; aerial of Sanish Bridge; train at embankment with ceremony (first train over Snake Creek Embankment) – Soo Line, people aboard, speeches off rear (no sound); yellow Garrison Dam sign.

Construction tunnel liners 1960-Ft. Peck & Garrison 55MB MP4 Video 3:01 Color NS

Construction-Bridge Mats (#34) 192MB MP4 Video 10:30 Color NS
Film tail reads Garrison Safeguards No. 5492 Comm.Koda - Reel 3.

Diving operation at intake (#40) 93MB MP4 Video 5:10 Color NS
Men getting into diving suits and being lowered and pulled from water.

Embankment and Tunnel construction (#23) 107MB MP4 Video 5:59 Color NS

Embankment Construction (#35) 75MB MP4 Video 3:49 Color NS
Film leader and tail reads #5283.

Excavating Lignite (#41) 156MB MP4 Video 8:00 Color NS
Steam shovel removing coal from water; coal hauling with snow on ground; water in pit; loading trucks; loading from many different angles; deep in pit – high wall; man on pile with testing device (checking temperature?); scraper and caterpillar; earthwork in pit. First portion of film has red tint; remainder color is okay.

Fill Embankment construction -Intake Bridge (#57) 101MB MP4 Video 5:43 Color NS

Garrison goes to work Pt. 1: 375MB MP4 Video 20:47 Color NS
Pt. 2: 453MB MP4 Video 25:04 Color NS
Digitized in two parts.

Garrison Progress-Riverdale 119MB MP4 Video 6:46 Color NS
Primarily heavy equipment construction shots. Map and power lines at end.

Generator rotor unit 3 installation (#46) 52MB MP4 Video 2:53 Color NS

Corps of Engineers Untitled (#55) Pt. 1: 246MB MP4 Video 17:19 Color NS
Pt. 2:153MB MP4 Video 10:36 Color NS
The film was digitized in two parts. Part 1 opens with scenes of Riverdale; construction bridge; other construction; last scene of part 1 shows Sanish school. Part 2 has extensive scenes from Sanish, also Riverdale; Four Bears Bridge; and construction for the relocation of the bridge.

Garrison Construction Pt. 2:164MB MP4 Video 11:23 Color NS
Pt. 1: 322MB MP4 Video 21:47 Color NS
Digitized in two parts. Part 1 opens with yellow Garrison Dam sign. All undated construction footage.

Garrison Dam and Reservoir Project Pt.2: 392MB MP4 Video 25:37 Color NS
Pt. 1: 96MB MP4 Video 6:21 Color NS
Digitized in two parts. This silent film has the same name and general content as the completed sound film listed in section 1. This version is approximately 9 minutes longer and includes duplication of scenes. This reel is a work print that contains miscellaneous takes and scraps.

Intake Bridge Construction (#58) 209MB MP4 Video 11:21 Color NS
In addition to construction scenes, shows lignite coal removal.

Old Missouri Construction 157MB MP4 Video 8:38 Color NS
Opens with scenes of Fort McKeen/Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan, and shots of the Missouri River; then a construction (earth packing) shot; and a shot of the model of the dam.

Plug construction upstream (#53) 178MB QuickTime 9:36 Color NS

Power House foundation 1952 (#13) 104MB MP4 Video 5:52 Color NS

Power on Line (#56) 65MB MP4 Video 3:40 Color NS
Begins with series of speakers at dedication ceremony; first speaker is Governor Brunsdale. Second segment shows interior of control room for electrical generation.

Riverdale - Intake Bridge Construction (#60) 192MB MP4 Video 10:30 Color NS
Scenes of Riverdale for first 2:20, both distance pan and street shots; construction footage of intake bridge.
Film leader ID reads #6041 Reel C Garrison 1952. The film is in good condition.

SB&Power House construction (#22) 39MB MP4 Video 2:10 Color NS
Film leader ID reads #3967 Reel B Garrison Safeguards.

Selected Film of Dam for Corps Anniversary 320MB MP4 Video 17:47 Color NS
Approximately 675 feet of 16mm film (selected scenes of construction of Garrison Dam) for inclusion in 181st anniversary Corps of Engineers motion picture. 14 scenes:
1. Brigadier General W. E. Potter, Missouri River Division Engineer, and Edward A. Bacon, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil and Military Affairs, speaking at the January 21, 1956 public ceremony inaugurating the production of hydro-electric power at Garrison Dam. The first of three initially installed 80,000 kw generators went on the line January 28, 1956 after about ten years of construction on the project. Garrison Dam is approaching 90 per cent of completion.
2. Spillway gates and bridge, comprising stage one construction.
3. River regulation outlet tunnels through dam in operation.
4. Surge tanks at powerhouse under construction.
5. Powerhouse and switchyard.
6. Penstock fabrication yard.
7. Installing section of penstock.
8. Placing lumber mattress in downstream closure section with tug; workmen “weaving” lumber mattress. Closure of river section accomplished summer and fall of 1953.
9. Earth loading, moving and compacting equipment in action on crest of dam.
10. General Lewis Pick, former Missouri River Division Engineer and Chief of Engineers, inspecting Garrison Dam construction with men from Missouri Basin Inter-Agency Committee.
11. Sheet-pile driving operation.
12. More earth moving equipment.
13. Excavating in powerhouse area and tunnel boring.
14. Olaf Lien of Garrison District Construction Division (hard hat) and inspecting engineers on Garrison Dam. Follows more tunnel boring.

Testing tunnel March 1949 (#6) negative film 259MB MP4 Video 14:30 B/W NS
Most of the footage is a negative of "Tunnel Film" described below. Also shows diagram of various sections of the dam.

Tunnel breakthrough (#51) 23MB MP4 Video 1:13 Color NS

Tunnel Film 202MB MP4 Video 11:00 B/W NS
Wide shot inside tunnel; man climbing scaffolding to top; pan of tunnel side; numbered steel ribs and closeup of ribs; man on scaffold measuring diameter with steel tape; close up of man measuring; more measuring for quality control; men climb to a locked box scaffold. (March 1949)

Garrison recreation 4,761KB MP4 Video 3:36 Color NS
Primarily boating on the reservoir. Film is dirty in places and has a blank segment in the middle.

"You're Driving Me Crazy" safety film 453MB MP4 Video 17:59 B/W NS
Safety film for Euclid operators. The film has a partially animated "talking" Euclid, but the film does not include the sound track.

3. Other topical film. As with the general category “construction footage,” the topical film was likely shot for use in productions, but the informational content is somewhat different from the construction footage which focuses on large equipment and earth moving, although some of the segments grouped here also contain construction images.

President Eisenhower at Garrison Dam Dedication 216MB MP4 Video 8:45 Color NS
Silent film of President Eisenhower dedicating Garrison Dam in 1953. Film was shot and transferred to digital medium at silent speed.

Fossil Digging 245MB MP4 Video 9:55 Color NS
Only the first and last minutes of this film show archeologists working in anticipation of the area’s inundation. The remainder shows a train (possibly first train over Snake Creek Embankment - see Construction #54) and more construction of the construction bridge.

Reservation 1952 288MB MP4 Video 11:34 Color NS
First 1:45 shows family on reservation, boy riding horse, etc. Second section has view of river valley and earth moving activities. Third section shows Sanish (?) school and homes, followed by structure for bridge extension, shots of river, and view of bridge.

Sanish Rodeo 259MB MP4 Video 10:23 Color NS

Launching Sycamore 1956-SB&PH Construction (#47) 144MB MP4 Video 8:03 Color NS
Launch of boat “Sycamore.”

Recreation 1957-58 210MB MP4 Video 11:42 Color NS

Sawing Ice-Test Tunnel (#49) 100MB MP4 Video 5:25 Color NS
Sawing ice on piers of construction bridge; flood in test tunnel; Sanish Bridge - winter - truck driving on ice; farmers cutting and hauling ice.

Missouri River Ice 1947 279MB MP4 Video 11:14 Color NS
Shows breakup of ice on Missouri River at Bismarck in 1947.

4. Film not related to North Dakota.

Quake Lake (#37) 533MB MP4 Video 28:33 Color NS
Quake Lake (officially Earthquake Lake is a lake in southwestern Montana, United States. It was created after a massive earthquake struck on August 17, 1959, which killed 28 people.

Quake Lake construction-Col Hogrefe and Arrons 154MB MP4 Video 8:35 B/W Sound

Quake Lake (#48) 54MB MP4 Video 3:01 B/W Sound
Quake Lake Odds and Ends (#12) 92MB MP4 Video 8:55 Color NS

McNary Dam Closure (#8) 31MB MP4 Video 1:50 Color NS
McNary Dam is a 1.4-mile (2.2-km) long concrete gravity run-of-the-river dam which spans the Columbia River. It joins Umatilla County, Oregon with Benton County, Washington, 292 miles (470 km) upriver from the mouth of the Columbia at Astoria, Oregon.[1] It is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' McNary Lock and Dam office. The dam is located a mile (2 km) east of the town of Umatilla, Oregon, and 8 miles (13 km) north of Hermiston, Oregon. The dam was originally planned to be named Umatilla Dam, but the Flood Control Act of 1945 renamed the dam in honor of Senator Charles L. McNary of Oregon, who had died the previous year.

McNary Dam Closure 218MB MP4 Video 12:01Color NS


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