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Our History

The history of the United States Society on Dams (USSD) was suggested by Keith Ferguson, then-President of USSD, for the Annual Meeting and Conference scheduled for April 13-17, 2015, in Louisville, Kentucky. The history of USSD and its predecessor organizations is not well documented and the author decided to focus on the “early history” of USSD’s predecessor organizations: the United States Committee on Large Dams (USCOLD), the United States Committee of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD), the American National Committee, and the United States Delegation to ICOLD.

Due to the lack of definitive information on the early organizations, this early history takes the approach of identifying the participants from the United States who contributed to the early ICOLD congresses and the nature of their positions within ICOLD, adding organizational information where possible, and the titles of their reports/papers that were included in the ICOLD Congress Transactions. This early history focuses on the first six ICOLD Congresses (1933, 1936, 1948, 1951, 1955, and 1958), the information contained in their Transactions, and the U.S. dams constructed before and during those periods.

The earliest publications that provide some background information on the early history of USSD’s predecessor organizations are the published ICOLD Congress Transactions of the First Congress (five volumes) held in 1933 in Stockholm, Sweden [1]; Second Congress (five volumes) held in 1936 in Washington, D.C., USA [2]; Third Congress (three volumes) held in 1948 in Stockholm, Sweden; Sweden [3]; Fourth Congress (four volumes) held in 1951 in New Delhi, India [4]; Fifth Congress (five volumes) held in 1955 in Paris, France [5]; and Sixth Congress (five volumes) held in 1958 in New York City, NY, USA [6]. The First and Second Congresses on Large Dams were conducted by ICOLD in conjunction with various meetings of the World Power Conferences that were conducted at the same times and places.

The World Energy Council was established in 1923 and its World Power Conferences were conducted every three years, starting in 1924. The first World Power Conference that same year was held in London, England, and was attended by 1,700 delegates from 40 countries. During the 49th meeting of the French Association for the Advancement of Science held at Grenoble in 1925, a resolution was adopted that advocated the organization of a permanent international technical committee on large dams and France was asked to initiate its formation. This action was supported by the World Power Conference at its Sectional Meeting in Basle in 1926. Thereafter, through the collaboration of the French Committee on Large Dams, the French National Committee, and the International Executive Council of the World Power Conference, a constitution was developed and adopted under the provisions of which the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) was organized in 1928 as a self-governing affiliate of the World Power Conference. Hence, ICOLD’s original name was the “International Commission on Large Dams of the World Power Conference.”

The Second ICOLD Congress Transactions [2] contain the best description of the early beginnings of ICOLD and of the United States’ participation in ICOLD, which was referred to at that time (1936) as the American National Committee. This “American National Committee” name appears to have been intended to include all of participating countries from North, Central, and South America. Subsequent ICOLD Congress Transactions were then examined to find any mention of when the formal organization called the U.S. Committee on Large Dams (USCOLD) was first mentioned. The first mention of USCOLD appears as a pencil note by Clarence E. Blee found at the front of the copy of the 1951 ICOLD Congress Transactions, Volume I (located in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Library at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colorado). In 1951, Clarence E. Blee was the Chief Engineer of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and became President of USCOLD in the 1950s.

First ICOLD Congress - 1933

The First ICOLD Congress was held at Stockholm, Sweden, from June 28 through July 8, 1933, during the Scandinavian Sectional Meeting of the World Power Conference. At the time of the First ICOLD Congress, there were 21 Member Countries in ICOLD; there was no information provided as to the number of or names of the delegates and/or participants who attended this Congress. During the period of the First ICOLD Congress, Gustave Mercier of France was the ICOLD President; the ICOLD Vice-Presidents included Dr. Elwood Mead (Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation) of the USA, Prof. G. de Thierry of Allemagne (Germany), W.J.E. Binnie of Great Britain, and Dr. H.E. Gruner of Switzerland; and A. Genthial of France was the ICOLD Secretary General. It should be of interest to remember that in 1933, the attendees at the First ICOLD Congress had to travel to and from Stockholm via steamship and/or railroad, which would have been a lengthy undertaking.


For additional reading, see the White Paper "USSD - A Review of Historical Milestones".

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