Construction of the colossal dam at Fort Peck manifested the promise of America as the country faced an unprecedented Depression. Seventy-five years after its completion, the structure stands as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the West, and is the subject of a new historical documentary, “Fort Peck Dam,” premiering at 8 p.m. Monday, May 21, on MontanaPBS.
In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set the stage to tame the mighty Missouri River and build, what was at the time, the world’s largest dam. Winding through America’s heartland, the Missouri was wildly unpredictable and characterized by extremes.
It was no surprise to see the mercury drop to 54 degrees below zero in the winter and climb to 115 degrees in the dry summers. The conditions were dangerous, the pay low and the housing inadequate. Over six years, 50,000 workers faced risky and dangerous conditions around the clock. Sixty men were killed during construction, six of whom still are entombed deep in the dam following a massive landslide in 1938.
The epic project, featured on the cover of the first Life magazine, embodies the wildest dreams about what we’ve become, and regrets about what we’ve done. The value system that existed when the dam was authorized gave little consideration to the destruction of natural habitats. There is an ever-growing debate about the management of water, the ecosystem and the role of large dams. Arid Western states already are considering the future of the commodity that is quickly becoming the new gold standard.
“Fort Peck Dam” tells the incredible human story of the era’s dramatic achievement that was bold in design, daring in execution and far-reaching in its effects.
“Everybody knew what a massive project it was, but everybody was so thankful to have a job,” said Joe Morin who worked on the dam. “It was a project that did everybody, for a huge radius surrounding Fort Peck, a lot of good.”
Compiled from thousands of archival photographs and hours of film, mixed with stunning modern footage, the documentary will premiere in high definition and Surround Sound and will air again at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24.
NOTE TO THE MEDIA: Broadcast-quality video and audio clips are available upon request, as well as interviews or comments from the film producer and director. Call producer Scott Sterling at 406-994-6202 or email email@example.com. For comments regarding the dam, call Michele Fromdahl, park ranger, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at 406-526-3493 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.