(Image of Buffalo Bill from commons.wikimedia.org, public domain)
106 years ago today the Buffalo Bill Dam was completed in Wyoming, USA, on the Shoshone River. It was an astonishing feat of engineering, the tallest dam in the world at the time, and exemplifies the absolutely crucial part engineers played in settling the American West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It has a structural height of 325 feet, 10 feet wide at the top and 108 feet wide at the base – using a total of 82,900 cubic yards of concrete.
(Image by Acroterion, commons.wikimedia.org)
It was renamed after famous Wild West figure, Buffalo Bill Cody, in 1946 – Cody had believed the Bighorn Basin - mostly cactus, sagebrush and tumbleweed at the time - could make good farmland, and led an expedition to publicise the idea of a canal system to irrigate the basin.
The US Reclamation Bureau’s engineers thought a dam would be a better solution, as it could generate power as well as provide irrigation. Daniel Webster Cole, Hiram Savage and Jeremiah Ahern formed the Dam engineering team.
It was the first dam to be built using the trial-load analysis technique, a forerunner of today’s computer assisted dam design, and used both horizontal arches and vertical cantilevers - dividing the water load between the two structural elements.
Today there are many taller dams, but the Buffalo Bill Dam maintains a special place in history, as was reflected when it was made a National Civil Engineering Landmark in 1973. It also still makes a huge contribution to the local area - Water stored behind the original Buffalo Bill Dam supplies four irrigation districts encompassing over 93,000 acres of farmland in the Bighorn Basin. Just another example of how great engineering changes the world.
Read more about the dam here.