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Building Bridges, Dams, Power Plants

Questions to Consider

How did the influx of Dust Bowl migrants and others in search of work affect the state of California?

How did the state respond to the power and transportation needs of its rapidly growing population?

How did the sometimes massive development projects affect California's landscape?

About the Images

California's booming population during the 1930s strained the existing infrastructure. These images depict the government-funded bridges, dams, and power plants that were built to support the state's growth.


The large development projects of the 1930s, designed to serve a growing population, helped shape California in many ways. Most are still integral today. Photographs show the progress of two massive Northern California projects: the Golden Gate Bridge, which links San Francisco and Marin County, and the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco with Oakland and the East Bay.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognized bridges in the world. It is unique not only because of its vermilion orange color: this steel suspension bridge, with a 4,200-foot-long central span and two towers that are 746 feet tall, is the largest ever built. The photographs in this group, taken between 1933 and 1934, show the various phases of construction from different perspectives, looking down, up, and across the span as it was being built. Some photos also show the workers who helped build this famous structure.

The Golden Gate Bridge was built under the direction of Joseph Baermann Strauss, an Ohio-born engineer who built more than 400 bridges. The portrait of Strauss also shows the partially built bridge in the background. The Golden Gate Bridge opened to vehicles and pedestrians in 1937.

The Bay Bridge construction began in 1933, and the span opened to vehicles in 1936. At 8.25 miles, it is the world’s longest steel bridge. The bridge consists of twin suspension bridges. Many of the photos show workers on catwalks with cables and pulleys, building the bridge.

Growing cities also created greater demands for resources, including electrical power. The building of powerhouses like the Pitt River Power House and the Las Plumas Power House near Oroville, shown here, helped to meet this need.

Southern California also saw large construction projects. One image in this group shows the San Vicente Dam under construction.

A few of these images were taken by Jervie Henry Eastman, who established Eastman's Studio in 1921. His photographs were often turned into picture postcards, such as the one of the oil rigs along Ocean Boulevard in Huntington Beach, in 1935.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade 4:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade 11:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Delivery multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade 4:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.5)

Grade 11:

11.6 Students analyze the different explanations for the Great Depression and how the New Deal fundamentally changed the role of the federal government. (11.6.3)

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts. Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)