I had wondered what the falls had looked like. Were they spectacular, something akin to Shoshone Falls? No, more akin to Idaho Falls, a drop in the river elevation but not a heart-stopping one.
The photo shows the first power plant located on the falls. It was built in 1902 and acquired by Idaho Power in 1916. An Oregon Shortline train is shown in the background chugging across the railroad bridge. They started building the first dam in 1925 and completed it in 1927. It’s not the dam you can drive across today, though. That was completed in 1978, downstream from the original. That followed a scare in 1976 when the Teton Dam failed. Water managers were afraid the sudden influx from that failure might cause the American Falls Dam to fail, too, sending even more water crashing down the Snake, taking out dams as it went, increasing in volume all the way to the Columbia. To prevent that, they threw open the gates at American Falls, avoiding the potential of an even larger disaster.
Power generation at American Falls is the reason for the name Power County. The current dam churns out 112 megawatts annually.