Morrison–Knudsen (MK) was an American civil engineering and construction company, with headquarters in Boise, Idaho.[1][2]

MK designed and constructed major infrastructure throughout the world and was one of the consortium of firms that built Hoover Dam, San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and many other large projects of American infrastructure.[1]


MK's origins date to 1905, when Harry Morrison (1885–1971)[3][4] met Morris Knudsen (1862–1943)[5][6] while working on the construction of the New York Canal (Boise Project) in southwestern Idaho. Morrison was a 20-year-old concrete superintendent for the Reclamation Service; Knudsen was a forty-something Nebraska farmer (and Danish immigrant) with a team of horses and a fresno scraper.[7][8]

Their first venture together was in 1912, on a pump plant in nearby Grand View for $14,000; they lost money but gained experience. MK earned some revenue in 1914, when they constructed the Three Mile Falls Diversion Dam, south of Umatilla, Oregon.[9] For several years, the firm built irrigation canals, logging roads, and railways; they incorporated in 1923, the year gross revenues topped $1 million. MK reached a significant milestone with its joint venture in the construction of Hoover Dam (1932–35).[10]

World War II

During World War II, MK built airfields, storage depots, and bases throughout the Pacific, and built ships along the West Coast. Japanese forces captured 1,200 workers, including many MK employees, stationed on Midway and Wake Islands in late 1941.[11][12] After the war, MK expanded into a variety of international construction fields.

Post-war projects

MK won contracts for many domestic and foreign Cold War projects. It built the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Distant Early Warning Line system, Minuteman missile silos, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and over 100 major dams. Morrison was featured on the cover of Time magazine on May 3, 1954, and the article claimed Morrison was "the man who has done more than anyone else to change the face of the earth."[13]

In the 1950s it was involved in the construction of the Rimutaka Tunnel in New Zealand, the longest rail tunnel in the southern hemisphere.[14] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, MK was involved in the construction of the Hamersley & Robe River and Mount Newman railways in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.[15][16][17]

From 1962 to 1972, MK managed a joint venture to serve the U.S. military as civilian contractors for infrastructure in the Vietnam War;[18] in 1971, they constructed 384 of the infamous "tiger cage" cells of Côn Sơn Prison.[19][20] The group was called RMK-BRJ and included Raymond International, Brown & Root, and JA Jones Construction Company.[11]

MK was also involved in the construction of rail projects such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) extension (MK also built 80 C2 cars for BART in 1994) and the single track Apoera-Bakhuys Railway in Suriname (1976–1977).

MK Rail

Morrison–Knudsen established a separate rail division, MK Rail, in 1972.[21] MK built the Caltrans California Cars (1994–96) as well as other rail passenger cars and light rail.[22][23] It also built locomotives, originally under its own name and later under subsidiary MK Rail from 1994 to 1996, such as the MK5000C and the F40PHM-2C. MK also rebuilt locomotives, including the four Delaware & Hudson ALCO PAs. Its Australian operation, based in Whyalla, South Australia, rebuilt 17 CL and eight AL class locomotives for Australian National and six DE class locomotives for BHP in the 1990s.[24] It rebuilt four Southern Pacific U25Bs with a Sulzer V-12 prime mover. These locomotives, designated M-K TE70-4S, operated from 1978 to 1987.[25]

MK was also one of the largest passenger railcar builders, located at the former Erie Railroad shop in Hornell, New York, overhauling and rebuilding many New York City Transit subway cars between 1984 and 1992 including R26/R28s, R29s, R32s (Phase I & II), some R36 World's Fair cars (pilot program), R42s, R44s, and R46s. It also overhauled NJ Transit's Arrow I series cars, converting from electric MUs to push-pull coaches, and SEPTA's Silverliner II and III series electric commuter cars in the late 1980s. The CTA 3200 series and Metro-North M-6 "Cosmopolitan" cars were built by MK in 1992–1994.

Morrison–Knudsen spun-off MK Rail in 1993; it became a publicly traded company in 1994. After Morrison–Knudsen's bankruptcy in 1996 the company renamed itself MotivePower, Inc. The company merged with Westinghouse Air Brake Company in 1999 to form the Wabtec Corporation. MotivePower is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Wabtec.[21]

Financial difficulty

By the 1990s, Morrison–Knudsen had been led into some risky non-core areas by Boise native William Agee, who became CEO in 1988 and was ousted by the board of directors in February 1995. MK had announced a loss of $310 million for fiscal year 1994, and a leak of an intended Agee resignation drew broad media attention which resulted in Agee resigning earlier than originally planned.[26][27] The company had been in financial difficulty for several years,[28] and declared bankruptcy that same year.[26][29][30][31] It was purchased by Washington Group in 1996 for $380 million.[32][33][34]

Additional growth

For several years after the 1996 merger, the company continued as Morrison–Knudsen. Growth by acquisition brought it into the top tier (by size) of American construction firms. In 1999, MK acquired the government-services operations of Westinghouse Electric Company,[35] becoming a science and technology services leader.[36]

The company expanded its market leadership in 2000 by acquiring Raytheon Engineers & Constructors,[37] which owned engineering giant Rust International of Birmingham, Alabama,[38] to produce one of the largest companies in the industry.


Following the acquisition, the MK's corporate name changed to Washington Group International in July 2000.[37] Issues with the Raytheon acquisition[39] caused WGI to declare bankruptcy in 2001[40] – virtually eliminating all shareholder value, but later successfully exited it.[41]

WGI was acquired by rival URS Corporation of San Francisco in 2007,[42] which was acquired by AECOM of Los Angeles in 2014.[43] With a greatly diminished presence in Idaho, the last positions in Boise were eliminated in 2015.[2]


  1. Solomon, Christopher (May 19, 1996). "A new page in Morrison Knudsen's storied life". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  2. Kyle, Zach (September 22, 2015). "Conglomerate plans to move the last vestiges of Morrison–Knudsen out of Boise; at least 75 layoffs". Idaho Statesman. (Boise). Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  3. "Harry Morrison dies at age 86". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Idaho. Associated Press. July 20, 1971. p. 1.
  4. "Harry W. Morrison". Find a Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  5. "Death Summon Morris Knudsen". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. November 17, 1943. p. 3.
  6. "Morris Hans Knudsen". Find a Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  7. Davis, L.J. (June 11, 1989). "Unlikely, but Boise means big business". New York Times.
  8. Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 37, 51–5, 169–74, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  9. "Three Mile Falls Diversion Dam". U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  10. International Directory of Company Histories. Vol. 28. St. James Press. 1999. page 287
  11. International Directory of Company Histories. page 288.
  12. Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 37, 51–2, 55, 169–74, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  13. "Builder Harry Morrison". Time. cover. May 3, 1954.
  14. " Longest Tunnel in British Commonwealth" Railway Gazette 18 November 1955 page 584
  15. "Contracts & Tenders" Railway Gazette May 21, 1965 page 418
  16. "News" Railway Gazette August 4, 1967 page 563
  17. "Robe River – fourth mineral railway in the Pilbara" Railway Gazette International October 1972 pages 383/384
  18. Tregaskis, Richard (1975). Southeast Asia: Building the Bases; the History of Construction in Southeast Asia. Washington, DC: Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 37.
  19. After the Signing of the Paris Agreements: Documents on South Vietnam’s Political Prisoners. Cambridge, MA: NARMIC/VRC. 1973. p. 10.
  20. Brown, Holmes, and Don Luce (1973). Hostages of War: Saigon’s Political Prisoners. Washington, D.C.: Indochina Mobile Education Project. p. 43.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. Carlson, Brad (September 27, 2004). "Locomotive builder MotivePower to boost Boise workforce". Idaho Business Review. Retrieved April 22, 2017.   via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  22. "Morrison Knudsen bets its future on rail". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. March 1, 1993. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  23. "Why Morrison Knudsen Is Riding The Rails". Business Week. November 1, 1992.
  24. "Morrison Knudsen Australia and the CLPs" Railway Digest June 1994 page 18
  25. Lustig 2003, p. 23
  26. "Morrison Knudsen settlements OK'd". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). Associated Press. May 22, 1996. p. D8.
  27. Wollenberg, Skip (February 11, 1985). "Top exec takes a fall". The Ledger. Lakeland, Florida. Associated Press. p. 1E.
  28. "Morrison Knudsen chief gets bad marks". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. May 28, 1992. p. 2B.
  29. "Is Morrison–Knudsen Corp. on the brink of disaster?". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). February 9, 1996. p. D7.
  30. "Morrison Knudsen explores merger". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. May 14, 1996. p. A8.
  31. "Morrison–Knudsen, Washington Group to merge". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. (Florida). Associated Press. May 17, 1996. p. 6D.
  32. Effinger, Anthony (August 27, 1996). "Court OKs Morrison Knudsen bankruptcy plan". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Bloomberg Business News. p. A10.
  33. "Morrison Knudsen plan to reorganize is OK'd". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). wire reports. August 28, 1996. p. 12B.
  34. "Morrison merging with Washington Construction". New York Times. August 27, 1996.
  35. "Westinghouse no more". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 23, 1999. p. F-1.
  36. Boselovic, Len (February 4, 1999). "Nuclear business ready to go". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. F1.
  37. "Morrison Knudsen buys Raytheon". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. (Idaho-Washington). Associated Press. July 8, 2000. p. 3A.
  38. "Rust says woes won't affect Mercedes work". Tuscaloosa News. Alabama. Associated Press. March 5, 2001. p. 9A.
  39. Murphy, Victoria (July 9, 2001). "Quicksand". Forbes.
  40. Cooper, David (May 16, 2001). "It's business as usual for Mercedes". Tuscaloosa News. (Alabama). p. 5B.
  41. Boone, Rebecca (May 28, 2007). "URS buying Washington Group for $2.6B". USA Today. Associated Press.
  42. Wee, Gillian; Baer, Justin (May 29, 2007). "URS Corp. acquires Washington Group". Seattle Times.
  43. Kirkham, Chris (October 17, 2014). "Aecom finalizes $6-billion acquisition of engineering design rival URS". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 27, 2018.


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