The Bonneville Power Administration was created by the U.S. government in 1937 to market wholesale power from federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. In 1938, information officer Stephen B. Kahn established BPA’s motion picture division to educate the public about the benefits of clean, affordable and reliable electric power from the Northwest’s unique power and transmission system.
BPA’s early films take viewers on a journey through the challenges of the Great Depression, the region’s crucial role in World War II – when abundant, low-cost hydropower from the Columbia River supported the massive effort to build the ships, planes and armaments that helped the Allies win the war – and finally into a time of prosperity and change in the 1950s. From proclaiming the construction of Grand Coulee Dam as “the biggest job man has ever tackled,” to extolling how Columbia River power is “opening the gates of opportunity” and building the “economy of abundance,” these films tell the story of how Bonneville Power and its federal partners worked to harness the power of the Columbia River so it could bring electricity, irrigation, navigation and commerce to Northwest homes, businesses, farms and industries. Six of these films were featured on BPA Film Collection, Volume One, 1939-1954
After promoting the development of the Federal Columbia River Power System and the idea of public power in the 1930s, BPA films began to tell new stories about the Northwest power system, and the challenges and victories that took place over the next four decades. BPA Film Collection, Volume Two
, features seven films from the 1950s through 1987, the year of BPA’s 50th anniversary.
BPA distributed these films to community groups, schools, business leaders, and in some cases, as far as India and Thailand.