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Rufus Woods, the Columbia River, and the Building of Modern Washington

Robert E. Ficken


Rufus Woods—for more than forty years the editor and publisher of the Wenatchee Daily World—has often been called the High Priest of the Columbia River. From his editorial platform, Woods tirelessly promoted Wenatchee and north-central Washington and long advocated the Columbia River’s economic development.


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Rufus Woods, for more than forty years the editor and publisher of the Wenatchee Daily World, has often been called the “High Priest of the Columbia River.” No person deserves the title more.

From the editorial platform of the World, Woods tirelessly promoted Wenatchee and north central Washington and long advocated the general development of the Columbia River. For decades he pegged his brightest hopes for the region’s future on a huge dam in the isolated Grand Coulee region of the central part of the state.

A founding member of what became known as the “Dam University,” Woods—through the World—provided the promotional mechanism that kept the drive for the great dam alive. From 1918 through Grand Coulee’s completion in 1941, Rufus Woods was the leading promoter of the largest dam-building project in American history.

Utilizing both his newspaper and his extensive political contacts on the state and national levels, Woods helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt, Congress, and the Bureau of Reclamation of the attainability of the grandiose scheme. Where others despaired, Rufus Woods never faltered in his faith in the project. Speaking before the 1942 graduating class of Grand Coulee High School, Woods proudly boasted of the accomplishment that he—more than any other individual—helped see to reality: “So here it stands, a monument to the idea and the power of an idea; a monument to an organization; a monument to cooperation. You, class of 1942, could you come back here in a thousand years hence, you would hear the sojourners talking as they behold this ‘slab of concrete,’ and you would hear them say, ‘Here in 1942, indeed, there once lived a great people.’”

Woods got his dam, but not the Wenatchee boom he desired. The project was possible only because of federal financing. With that financing came control of the system, including a vast maze of power lines emanating from Grand Coulee’s huge hydroelectric plant that instantaneously sends electricity to cities like Portland and Seattle, which benefited much more from the dam’s power than did Wenatchee.

Even so, Woods’s beloved adopted home grew tremendously during his lifetime, and much of that economic development can be attributed to his single-minded efforts to “grow” the region.

Award-winning historian Robert Ficken has produced a full and lively biography of one of the Northwest’s most influential newspapermen. In the process, he has penned a great companion to Paul C. Pitzer’s Grand Coulee: Harnessing a Dream.

Photographs / notes / bibliography / index / 316 pages (1995)

Additional information

Weight 1.31 oz
Dimensions 9 x 6 in

eBook, Paperback