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Hydroelectric Power History

The following timeline is courtesy of Bechtel BWXT Idaho, LLC.

B.C., Used by the Greeks to turn water wheels for grinding wheat into flour, more than 2,000 years ago.

1775, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers founded, with establishment of Chief Engineer for the Continental Army.

1880, Michigan's Grand Rapids Electric Light and Power Company, generating electricity by dynamo, belted to a water turbine at the Wolverine Chair Factory, lit up 16 brush-arc lamps.

1881, Niagara Falls, city street lamps powered by hydropower.

1886, about 45 water-powered electric plants in the U.S. and Canada.

1887, San Bernardino, Ca., first hydroelectric plant in the west.

1889, 200 electric plants in the U.S. use waterpower for some or all generation.

1901, first Federal Water Power Act.

1902, Bureau of Reclamation established.

1907, 15% of electric generating capacity in U.S. was provided by hydropower.

By 1920, 25% of U.S. electrical generation was by hydropower. 1920, Federal Power Act establishes Federal Power Commission authority to issue licenses for hydrodevelopment on public lands.

1933, Tennessee Valley Authority established.

1935, Federal Power Commission authority extended to all hydroelectric projects built by utilities engaged in interstate commerce.

1937, Bonneville Dam, first Federal dam, begins operation on the Columbia River.

1937, Bonneville Power Administration established.

By 1940, 40% of electrical generation was hydropower.

Between 1921 and 1940, conventional capacity in the U.S. tripled; almost tripled again between 1940 and 1980.

Currently, about 7% of U.S. electricity comes from hydropower. Today, there is about 80,000 MW of conventional capacity and 18,000 MW of pumped storage.

Updated: Tuesday, August 26, 2003
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