In 1849, British–American engineer James Francis developed the first modern water turbine – the Francis turbine – which remains the most widely-used water turbine in the world today. In the 1870s, American inventor Lester Allan Pelton developed the Pelton wheel, an impulse water turbine, which he patented in 1880.
The Bureau of Reclamation gets involved with hydropower development to provide water management to the western parts of the United States. The Bureau of Reclamation is the 2nd largest producer of hydropower in the nation.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are authorized by Congress to build hydroelectric plants in the 1920s. The Corps operates 75 power plants, which makes the organization the fifth largest electric supplier in the United States.
To increase the hydropower capacity of the Housatonic River, Connecticut Light and Power begins flooding what would become Candlewood Lake and builds the Rocky River Plant in New Milford. The first large-scale pumped-storage development in the United States is the Rocky River Plant in Milford.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is tasked with controlling flooding and opening up the Tennessee River for navigation. Now the corporation operates 29 hydroelectric dams throughout the Tennessee River system and a pumped-storage facility.
In 1935 the Federal Power Commission’s authority is extended to all hydroelectric projects built by publicly or privately-owned utilities engaged in interstate commerce.
The Hoover Dam, one of the most famous hydroelectric projects in history, is completed on the border of Nevada and Arizona. The dam built on the Colorado River was created for three purposes. Number 1: providing irrigation water, Number 2: controlling floods, and number 3: supplying power.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Bonneville Project Act, which establishes the Bonneville Power Administration. The Bonneville Lock and Dam, located on the Columbia and Snake Rivers between Washington and Oregon began operating in September 1937.
After a massive boost from President Roosevelt’s New Deal construction programs, hydropower accounts for a full 40% of electrical generation in the United States, that's more than tripling the capacity of just 20 years earlier. The construction of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana alone employed 10,500 workers.
Nicknamed the “Quiet Giant,” this Bath County, Virginia, plant holds first place as the world’s largest pumped storage plant for 20 years, and regains its position at the top of the list after a refurbishment of its six turbines in 2009. The station currently has a generating capacity of 3 gigawatts and supplies power for residents and businesses across six states.