Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

February 1995


Published in Great Plains Research 5:1 (February 1995). Copyright © 1995 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


Elwood Mead, like Elwood P. Dowd, saw things other people didn't. Both preferred the world of their imagination. But the resemblance ends there. Mead labored zealously for over 50 years to make his imaginary world a reality. And to a significant degree he was successful.

James R. Kluger, essentially revising his doctoral dissertation for publication, has traced the broad outlines of Mead's career as America's foremost proponent of irrigation. This is not a biography in the strict sense of the word. Kluger gives us no insights into Mead's character, or his family life. The work is confined to recounting, on a chronological basis, the various steps in Mead's career, from serving as Wyoming's territorial engineer in the late 1880’s to heading the Bureau of Reclamation from 1924 to 1936, culminating with the construction of Hoover Dam.

The portrait of Mead that emerges from the pages of this slender volume is not particularly flattering. In his conclusion, Kluger argues that Mead was not dogmatic, but virtually every incident cited in the book refutes that statement.