Since the 1931 completion of Bagnell Dam in a remote area of the Ozarks hills, visitors and vacationers have been enjoyed the fun and excitement of the Lake of the Ozarks for more than seven decades.
The Lake of the Ozarks measures more than 90 miles in length and has several tributaries supplying it. In total, it has over 1,100 miles of shoreline in four different Missouri counties. The massive body of water backed up behind Bagnell Dam is the largest manmade lake in the Midwestern United States and is one of the most popular vacation spots for residents from all parts of the country and the world.
Even though construction of the dam began in august of 1929 and was completed in an amazing length of time in April of 1931, the concept of a hydro electric power plant on the Osage River was first introduced by a Kansas City developer as long ago as 1912. Ralph Street managed to put together the funding to construct a dam across the Osage River and began building roads, railroads and support structures necessary to begin construction of a dam that would impound a much smaller lake than what is presently known as Lake of the Ozarks. Sometime in the mid 1920’s, Street’s funding dried up and he had to abandon the idea of the first hydro electric power plant on the Osage River.
Upon Street’s failure to deliver the power plant, Union Electric Power and Light stepped in with an engineering firm from Boston, MA and designed and constructed Bagnell Dam in one of the most unlikely spots along the Osage River. Many thought the 30 million dollar would be a disaster with the stock market crash of 1929, but the project proved to be a boost to many families in the area as well as the hundreds that traveled across the country seeking work. By today’s standards, all construction was done by hand and the equipment used in the construction was quite primitive, but the construction of Bagnell Dam was completed and Lake of the Ozarks was at full reservoir in less than two years.
In the early 1930’s, resorts consisting of not much more than small fishing cabins began springing up along the shoreline catering to the fishermen and soon found that families enjoyed the lake just as much. Along with the fishing boats, the wooden hull speed boat made a debut on the lake making it possible for all types of vacations including leisure cruising to water skiing. Today, you can find some of the most luxurious and some of the most expensive boats cruising the lake. They range from the mid twenty foot runabout to up to the sixty foot motor yacht and to mention, the personal water craft that has become one of the most popular transportation on the Lake of the Ozarks.
Lake of the Ozarks became the most visited lake in the Midwest for boaters by the 1950’s. Boating became so popular on the lake by the late 1960’s, the state of Missouri used Lake of the Ozarks as their test lake for the first Missouri State Water Patrol. The State Water Patrol started out with one boat and two patrolmen. Since this was a new venture in law enforcement, they were challenged with training themselves and developing new techniques, help to write the new boating laws from patrol experiences and develop safe boating practices for the new state agency. In the beginning, the Missouri State Water Patrol did not have the rights to perform arrests for violations. Their duties in the beginning was to observe and to assist boaters on the Lake of the Ozarks.
One of the first two patrolmen for the state was a young man that was born and raised on the Lake of the Ozarks. Dan Needham graduated from School of the Osage High School located near the Bagnell Dam Strip. Dan made a career with the Missouri State Water Patrol helping to build it to its present state of operation. Dan Needham spent several years working his way up through the ranks as a Missouri State Water Patrolman until he was promoted by the Missouri governor as the Missouri State Water Patrol Supervisor and later he was appointed as the director of Public Safety for the State of Missouri.
Thanks to the time and effort to the people before them, today’s water patrol personnel, including men and women across the state of Missouri, utilize state of the art equipment and have full law enforcement powers for the entire state of Missouri. Thanks to these men and women and long hard hours of dedication, the Lake of the Ozarks is a much safer place to play and vacation.
We all love the pleasures that the lake of the Ozarks provides and we all need to acknowledge that safety should be first priority when boating the lakes and rivers of our fine state of Missouri.