(Redirected from Morrison-Knudsen)

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

IndustryCivil engineering and construction company
Founded1905 (1905)
FateAcquired By AECOM

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 IIEdit

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 projectsEdit

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 late 1950s, MK constructed the railroad causeway that spanned across the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The Lucin Cutoff causeway allowed trains to operate at full operating speeds instead of the slower speeds required to safely travel over the deteriorating wooden trestle crossing parallel to it. The causeway is estimated to have used 65 million tons of rock and gravel.[14][15]

In the 1950s it was involved in the construction of the Rimutaka Tunnel in New Zealand, the longest rail tunnel in the southern hemisphere.[16] 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.[17][18][19]

From 1962 to 1972, MK managed a joint venture to serve the U.S. military as civilian contractors for infrastructure in the Vietnam War;[20] in 1971, they constructed 384 of the infamous "tiger cage" cells of Côn Sơn Prison.[21][22] 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).[citation needed]

Rail and transitEdit

MK RailEdit

Morrison–Knudsen ballast hopper with CIC markings on the CRANDIC at Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Morrison–Knudsen established a separate rail systems division in 1972.[23] Initially, the company rebuilt locomotives, such as the four Delaware & Hudson ALCO PAs. It rebuilt four Southern Pacific GE U25Bs with a Sulzer V-12 prime mover. These locomotives, designated M-K TE70-4S, operated from 1978 to 1987.[24] 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. 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.[25][26]

Morrison–Knudsen spun-off MK Rail in 1993; it became a publicly traded company in 1994.[27] After Morrison–Knudsen's bankruptcy in 1996 the company renamed itself MotivePower.[28] The company merged with Westinghouse Air Brake Company in 1999 to form Wabtec.[29] MotivePower is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Wabtec.[23]

MK TransitEdit

MK also entered the passenger railcar rebuilding market in the 1980s, initially located at the former Erie Railroad shop in Hornell, New York. It overhauled and rebuilt 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 Comet 1B push-pull coaches, and SEPTA's Silverliner II and III series electric commuter cars in the late 1980s. Vehicles overhauled in the 1990s included Metra Highliner I EMU cars, an Amtrak Turboliner RTL-II, as well as BTC-1C passenger cars and US Standard Light Rail Vehicles for the MBTA.[citation needed]

MK later expanded into building new cars, taking over the former Pullman Company factory in Chicago in 1992.[30][31] The CTA 3200 series and Metro-North M6 "Cosmopolitan" cars were built by MK in 1992–1994.[citation needed] A third site for assembling the BART C2 cars was opened in Pittsburg, California in 1993.[32] MK also built Metra gallery cars, Amtrak Viewliner I sleeping cars, the Caltrans California Cars (1994–96) and other rail passenger cars and light rail.[33][34]

By 1995, Morrison–Knudsen was facing bankruptcy, with more than 60% of the company's previous-year net loss of $350 million occurring in the MK Transit division.[35] A special purpose company, named Amerail (American Passenger Rail Car Company), was formed so that Morrison–Knudsen could divest itself of this loss-making division, while also allowing the remaining MK Transit contracts to be completed. The new company was funded by Morrison–Knudsen's creditors, led by the Fidelity and Deposit Company in Baltimore, and was headquartered in Chicago.[36][37]

The Pittsburg site was transferred to Adtranz in December 1995, following completion of the BART C2 cars. After this transfer, the site was used for overhaul of the older BART A and B cars.[38][39] Morrison–Knudsen had also bid on this contract, but lost out to AEG Transportation Systems (who were then acquired by Daimler-Benz, becoming part of Adtranz shortly after).[40] The Hornell site was bought by GEC-Alsthom in July 1997, following unsuccessful attempts at a joint venture to bid on new contracts.[41][42] The final site in Chicago closed in mid-1998, when work on contracts for Metra was completed.[42]

Financial difficultyEdit

In 1991, MK purchased a 49% shareholding in New Zealand construction contractor McConnell Dowell.[43]

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.[44][45] The company had been in financial difficulty for several years,[46] and declared bankruptcy that same year.[44][47][48][49] It was purchased by Washington Group in 1996 for $380 million.[50][51][52]

Additional growthEdit

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,[53] becoming a science and technology services leader.[54]

The company expanded its market leadership in 2000 by acquiring Raytheon Engineers & Constructors,[55] which owned engineering giant Rust International of Birmingham, Alabama,[56] 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.[55] Issues with the Raytheon acquisition[57] caused WGI to declare bankruptcy in 2001[58] – virtually eliminating all shareholder value, but later successfully exited it.[59]

WGI was acquired by rival URS Corporation of San Francisco in 2007,[60] which was acquired by AECOM of Los Angeles in 2014.[61] With a greatly diminished presence in Idaho, the last positions in Boise were eliminated in 2015.[2]


  1. ^ a b Solomon, Christopher (May 19, 1996). "A new page in Morrison Knudsen's storied life". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  2. ^ a b 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. ^ a b 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. Archived from the original on December 7, 2006.
  14. ^ "The Great Salt Lake Railroad Crossing by Morrison-Knudsen Company" (PDF). 1957.
  15. ^ Mariners in Hard Hats: a Morrison-Knudsen film, retrieved 2022-01-14
  16. ^ " Longest Tunnel in British Commonwealth" Railway Gazette 18 November 1955 page 584
  17. ^ "Contracts & Tenders" Railway Gazette May 21, 1965 page 418
  18. ^ "News" Railway Gazette August 4, 1967 page 563
  19. ^ "Robe River – fourth mineral railway in the Pilbara" Railway Gazette International October 1972 pages 383/384
  20. ^ 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. OCLC 952642951.
  21. ^ After the Signing of the Paris Agreements: Documents on South Vietnam's Political Prisoners. Cambridge, MA: NARMIC/VRC. 1973. p. 10.
  22. ^ 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)
  23. ^ a b 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)
  24. ^ Lustig 2003, p. 23
  25. ^ Last of Current MKC Loco Rebuilds Catch Point issue 101 May 1994 page 8
  26. ^ Morrison Knudsen Australia and the CLPs Railway Digest June 1994 page 18
  27. ^ Rail Update Railway Age June 1994 page 16
  28. ^ MK Rail becomes MotivePower industries Railway Age December 1996 page 22
  29. ^ Goodbye, WABCO, MPI. Hello, Wabtec Railway Age December 1999 page 18
  30. ^ Galica, Larry (January 18, 1992). "Idaho rail car firm gets $379 million Metra contract". The Northwest Indiana Times.
  31. ^ "Morrison Knudsen Bets Its Future on Rail". Los Angeles Times. March 1, 1993.
  32. ^ "First California Cars Delivered". Pacific RailNews (374): 77–78. January 1995.
  33. ^ "Morrison Knudsen bets its future on rail". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. March 1, 1993. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  34. ^ "Why Morrison Knudsen Is Riding The Rails". Business Week. November 1, 1992.
  35. ^ Young, David (July 9, 1995). "MORRISON KNUDSEN RISKS ITS LIFE BY RIDING RAILS". Chicago Tribune.
  36. ^ Tirschwell, Peter M. (October 18, 1995). "MORRISON KNUDSEN PLANS TO SPIN OFF MONEY-LOSING TRANSIT-CAR DIVISION". Journal of Commerce. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  37. ^ "Morrison Knudsen To Shed Transit Unit". The New York Times. October 19, 1995.
  38. ^ "Morrison Knudsen to Close Plant". AP News. September 20, 1995.
  39. ^ Conrad, Katherine (March 7, 2004). "Rail car maker secures Pittsburg plant site". San Francisco Business Times.
  40. ^ Kazakoff, Lois (March 10, 1995). "Pennsylvania Firm Gets BART Car Rehab Contract". SFGATE. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  41. ^ Young, David (November 28, 1997). "CEO SEEKS BACKERS IN 'FEAST OR FAMINE' INDUSTRY". Chicago Tribune.
  42. ^ a b Holecek, Andrea (April 1, 1998). "Rail car company rolls to end of the line". The Northwest Indiana Times.
  43. ^ Honolulu selects MK-AEG hoint venture Railway Age October 1991 page 22
  44. ^ a b "Morrison Knudsen settlements OK'd". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). Associated Press. May 22, 1996. p. D8.
  45. ^ Wollenberg, Skip (February 11, 1985). "Top exec takes a fall". The Ledger. Lakeland, Florida. Associated Press. p. 1E.
  46. ^ "Morrison Knudsen chief gets bad marks". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. May 28, 1992. p. 2B.
  47. ^ "Is Morrison–Knudsen Corp. on the brink of disaster?". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). February 9, 1996. p. D7.
  48. ^ "Morrison Knudsen explores merger". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. May 14, 1996. p. A8.
  49. ^ "Morrison–Knudsen, Washington Group to merge". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. (Florida). Associated Press. May 17, 1996. p. 6D.
  50. ^ Effinger, Anthony (August 27, 1996). "Court OKs Morrison Knudsen bankruptcy plan". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Bloomberg Business News. p. A10.
  51. ^ "Morrison Knudsen plan to reorganize is OK'd". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). wire reports. August 28, 1996. p. 12B.
  52. ^ "Morrison merging with Washington Construction". New York Times. August 27, 1996.
  53. ^ "Westinghouse no more". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 23, 1999. p. F-1.
  54. ^ Boselovic, Len (February 4, 1999). "Nuclear business ready to go". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. F1.
  55. ^ a b "Morrison Knudsen buys Raytheon". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. (Idaho-Washington). Associated Press. July 8, 2000. p. 3A.
  56. ^ "Rust says woes won't affect Mercedes work". Tuscaloosa News. Alabama. Associated Press. March 5, 2001. p. 9A.
  57. ^ Murphy, Victoria (July 9, 2001). "Quicksand". Forbes. 42 (3): 204. doi:10.1136/medhum-2016-010985. PMID 27422222. S2CID 219225690.
  58. ^ Cooper, David (May 16, 2001). "It's business as usual for Mercedes". Tuscaloosa News. (Alabama). p. 5B.
  59. ^ Boone, Rebecca (May 28, 2007). "URS buying Washington Group for $2.6B". USA Today. Associated Press.
  60. ^ Wee, Gillian; Baer, Justin (May 29, 2007). "URS Corp. acquires Washington Group". Seattle Times.
  61. ^ Kirkham, Chris (October 17, 2014). "Aecom finalizes $6-billion acquisition of engineering design rival URS". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 27, 2018.


External linksEdit