Six Companies

Six Companies, Inc. was a joint venture of construction companies that was formed to build the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in Nevada and Arizona.[1]

Six Companies
TypeJoint venture
FoundedFebruary 1931 (1931-02)
Key people
Frank Crowe

They later built Parker Dam, a portion of the Grand Coulee Dam, the Colorado River Aqueduct across the Mojave and Colorado Deserts to urban Southern California, and many other large projects.

Hoover Dam

On January 10, 1932, the Bureau of Reclamation made bid documents for the Hoover Dam construction project available to interested parties at $5 a copy (equivalent to $89.00 in 2021[2]). The government would provide the materials, and the contractor was to prepare the site and build the dam. The dam was described in minute detail, covering 100 pages of text and 76 drawings. A $2 million (equivalent to $29.1 million in 2021[3]) bid bond was to accompany each bid. The winner would have to post a $5 million (equivalent to $72.7 million in 2021[3]) performance bond. The contractor would have seven years to build the dam, or penalties would ensue.[4]

Because of the project's immense size and the fact that it was the first dam on the Colorado River, no single contractor had the resources to make a qualified bid alone. So, general contractors Utah Construction Company of Ogden, Utah decided to form a consortium in order to submit a joint bid for the contract. Initially, Utah Construction Company's owners, brothers E.O. and W.H. Wattis, along with the company's vice president, Andrew H. Christensen, asked Harry W. Morrison of Morrison-Knudsen to join them. After they realized the bid would be much higher than expected, the Wattis Brothers and Morrison-Knudsen convinced four additional companies to join. In February 1930 The Six Companies, Inc. was incorporated as a joint venture and they began working out a bid enlisting the help of Morrison-Knudsen employee Frank T. Crowe to do so.

The project was so complex and large that only three bids were received and, on March 4, 1931, the US Secretary of the Interior accepted the Six Companies' bid of US$48,890,955 (equivalent to $711 million in 2021[3]). This was $5,000,000 lower than the next bidder, meaning a bid-spread of almost 10%.[5]

The Six Companies board selected Crowe, who had helped draft the bid, as the General Construction Superintendent of the Boulder Dam construction. He was heavily involved and hired each of the men who were employed during the course of the project, lived in Boulder City with his wife and two daughters, and was on the dam site every day of the week until the project was completed.

Work began around June 1931[6] and The Six Companies completed the dam's construction two years ahead of schedule in 1935. Crowe was awarded a bonus percentage of the profit for completing virtually every portion of the job well ahead of schedule. The dam was dedicated in September 1935 but it took an additional nine years (1938–1947) under relative secrecy, to fix serious leaks with a supplemental grout curtain.[7]

Six Companies Railroad

The Six Companies also built the 19.1-mile (30.7 km) Six Companies Railroad. It ran along the Hemenway Wash, present day Las Vegas Bay, and connected to the US Government Hoover Dam Railroad at Lawler, Nevada, a location also known as "US Government Junction". From Lawler the railroad went north for seven miles (11 km) to Saddle Island and then east to the Three-Way Junction gravel plant, now submerged under Lake Mead. From the gravel plant the line split into two branches. One branch ran south for 4.8 miles (7.7 km) to the dam via Cape Horn, Lomix (the Low Level Concrete Mixing Plant) and Himix (the High Level Concrete Mixing Plant) and the dam face. The other branch, now also submerged under Lake Mead, ran north for 7.3 miles (11.7 km) across the Las Vegas Wash, crossed the Colorado River on a bridge into Arizona and the Arizona gravel pit (Arizona Gravel Deposits) at a location two miles (3.2 km) from Callville.

The line was constructed by railroad contractor John Phillips of San Francisco, California. Since the completion of the dam and filling of Lake Mead, Six Companies, Inc. railroad line is now submerged.

The Western Pacific Railroad purchased several of the Six Companies dump cars for company service after the dam was completed and the equipment declared surplus. One of these cars is now preserved at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum at Portola, California.

The US Government Railroad had a 10-mile (16 km) branch that brought supplies by rail from a connection with the Boulder City Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad at Boulder City, Nevada.


During World War II, the Six Companies built airstrips and related facilities on Pacific islands. The venture also held a majority ownership interest in Joshua Hendy Iron Works in Sunnyvale, California. Hendy was most known for its record-breaking assembly line production of 754 Liberty Ship EC-2 Reciprocating Steam Engines, producing one engine every 40.8 hours. They were used at the Richmond Shipyards.[8][9][10]

Company structure

Six Companies Inc. was composed of:

  1. Henry J. Kaiser Co. of Oakland, California and Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco (as Bechtel-Kaiser): 30%
  2. MacDonald and Kahn of Los Angeles, California: 20%
  3. Utah Construction Company of Ogden, Utah: 20%
  4. Morrison-Knudsen of Boise, Idaho: 10%,
  5. Pacific Bridge Company of Portland, Oregon: 10%
  6. J.F. Shea Co of Portland, Oregon: 10%

Leadership was split between the companies with officers:

  • W.H. Wattis of Utah Construction Company (President)
  • W.A. Bechtel of Bechtel-Kaiser (First Vice President)
  • E.O. Wattis of Utah Construction Company (2nd Vice President)
  • Charles A Shea of J.F. Shea Co (Secretary)
  • Felix Kahn of MacDonald and Kahn (Treasurer)
  • K.K. Bechtel of Bechtel-Kaiser (Assistant Secretary-Treasurer)

Board members included:

  • W.H. Wattis
  • E.O. Wattis
  • Charles A. Shea
  • Felix Kahn
  • Stephen D. Bechtel
  • Henry J. Kaiser
  • Alan MacDonald
  • Philip Hart

See also


  1. Herman, Arthur (2012). Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II. New York: Random House. pp. 37, 52–5, 210. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  2. 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  3. Johnston, Louis; Williamson, Samuel H. (2023). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved January 1, 2023. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth series.
  4. Stevens, Joseph (1988). Hoover Dam: An American Adventure. New York: Free Press. p. 34. ISBN 0-8061-2283-8.
  5. Stevens (1988), pp. 45–46.
  6. Stevens (1988), pp. 35–42.
  7. Rogers, J. David (September 22, 2005). "Hoover Dam: Grout Curtain Failure and Lessons Learned in Site Characterization" (PDF). Dams Symposium. Las Vegas: Association of Engineering Geologists. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 21, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  8. "Engine #754 at Joshua Hendy Iron Works". Sunnyvale History. Sunnyvale Collection. Sunnyvale, CA: Sunnyvale Public Library. Archived from the original on February 20, 2012. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  9. "Corporations: Machine Maker for the West". Time. March 25, 1946. Archived from the original on February 19, 2011.
  10. Herman (2012), pp. 169–74, 176–91.

Further reading

  • Myrick, David F. (1992). Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California. Vol. 2: The Southern Roads. Reno: University of Nevada Press. pp. 734–752. ISBN 0-87417-194-6.
  • Wolf, Donald E. (1996). Big Dams and Other Dreams: The Six Companies Story. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2853-4.
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