Granite Construction’s roots are traceable to California construction license No. 89—one of the first 100 licenses issued on October 1, 1929.
Granite crews built nearly a quarter of the 444-mile long California Aqueduct otherwise known as the "Grand Canal."
In the 1920s and 30s, Granite crews worked on the legendary Route 66 through the Mojave Desert and built some of the first roads into Yosemite National Park.
Following World War II, Granite was the beneficiary of the country’s love affair with automobiles, including paving the first streets in its hometown of Watsonville, California.
During the Great Depression, Granite found salvation in building a road to the top of Yosemite National Park. Sculpting the road that’s now chiseled into American lore was a matter of pride for the struggling firm. It was also a near-death experience.
Ominous was 1929. Driving to a quarry, Arthur Wilson pulled over to check for tire trouble. Overcome with dizziness while inspecting his car, he flagged down a passing vehicle to take him home. A doctor who rushed to the house diagnosed a heart attack. By the early-morning hours of the next day, Granite’s founder was dead. Anna, his young widow and the mother of two, inherited the businesses. In affection, she was soon answering to “Madame President.”
The day Wilson died, the stock market began a downward slide. The Crash of 1929 hit 10 days later. The Great Depression had arrived. Granite continued its road-building work, but revenues were insufficient. By the end of 1932, Granite salaries were cut only 10 percent at a time when nearly one-quarter of all Americans were without a job—many without food. Hope appeared when Granite won a contract to build the first roads into Yosemite National Park.
Glaciers and granite make the magic of Yosemite. Molten lava that was forced from the Earth’s core gave rise to the park’s renowned granite cliffs. As soon as Granite Construction crews began building Wawona Road, they discovered that the granite rock of Yosemite was far harder than the granite at their quarry in Watsonville. The road became a test of the firm’s will to survive.
The roads into the park weren’t maintained in wintertime. Truck drivers had to wait for the snow to melt before the work camp could be pitched. The roads leading into Yosemite were so muddy that the first trucks through had to be towed by tractors. Prized were Granite’s two new “cats,” as Caterpillar’s earliest bulldozers were called. The gear became key to success in Yosemite.
Granite foremen had US Army tents erected to house construction crews. Holes were dug and outhouses were built. A shower house, kitchen, mess hall, and commissary were installed, and an office building was constructed. A shop to service equipment and a gas pump with underground storage also were built in the wilderness. Pine trees, underbrush, and debris were cleared to make room for a quarry and a plant site downstream from the camp. Three miles down the road, the married men and their families lived in cabins. The garbage pit for both camps became a haven for bears.
The Wawona job—with an overall price tag of $15,275—was completed early and without weather delays. Confident that they could bid on future Yosemite projects, Granite’s crews dismantled the rock plant and left it behind in hopes of having a bidding advantage by saving on transportation costs on rumored future jobs. Thinking ahead and strategizing would give Granite a financial edge, as the future project became reality in the form of a paving job between Chinquapin and Glacier Point.
By the summer of 1936, the road to Glacier Point was complete. Charles Goff Thomson, Yosemite superintendent, wrote to the director of the National Park Service with the news: “It is difficult to realize that the much-talked-of Glacier Point Road is now a reality . . . it marks the highest standard yet attained in road construction through difficult country.”
Owner Bert Scott was on the last load out of Yosemite. He said, “There wouldn’t be a Granite if we hadn’t sold the job that day.”