Early on during World War II, the Pentagon declared the Shasta Dam project to be an AA-1 defense related project, thereby receiving priority status in the acquisition of money, materials, and labor. While the urgency of generating electrical power for the war effort focused attention on Shasta Dam, the main purpose in its construction lay in the attempt to solve California’s historic water problems. Shasta Dam would become the “keystone” of the Central Valley Project.
Congress gave the United States Bureau of Reclamation authority to oversee dam construction. The Bureau quickly placed the Shasta Dam project under the New Deal funding agency of the Public Works Administration (PWA) thereby assuring an ongoing funding commitment from Congress. Additionally, the Bureau decided to bid out dam construction to private companies.
Pacific Constructors, Inc. (PCI) came into existence in 1937 when William A. Johnson, a leading southern Californian industrialist, successfully convinced other construction owners to form a joint venture and bid on the federal dam projects. Johnson brought in Steve Griffith, L. E. Dixon, Clyde Wood, Floyd Shofner, and D. W. Thurston; all experienced in completing heavy construction jobs. In preparing to bid on the Shasta job, the leadership team of Pacific Constructors decided to bring in additional construction companies. To this end, the Arundel Corporation, W.E. Callahan Construction Co., the Gunther & Shirley Company, and the Foley Brothers, Inc. all accepted the invitation to join the bid on Shasta Dam.
Once PCI had won the bid and succeeded in acquiring the Shasta Dam contract, they hired America’s top dam builder, Frank T. Crowe as the dam construction engineer. The United States Bureau of Reclamation, given authority to oversee the work of PCI, selected Ralph Lowry as Chief Engineer. Construction started in 1938, and was completed in 1944 (6 years 9 months).