As a child, Stephen Bechtel Jr. took frequent trips to the Hoover Dam, a massive structure that his family’s business—the Bechtel Corporation—was building in the Nevada desert. As an adult, he became president of the company, growing it into one of this country’s leading engineering and construction firms. When he retired as CEO in 1990, the company had 32,500 employees working on 1,700 projects in 77 countries.
Among his many accomplishments, Bechtel built the Channel Tunnel, the largest U.S. nuclear power plant, and a 360-square-mile industrial city in Saudi Arabia. In Scouting circles, however, he is known for another project, The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in West Virginia, which serves as a high adventure base and the permanent site of the national Scout jamboree. In 2009, Bechtel’s family foundation donated $50 million to help purchase the 10,600-acre property.
Bechtel’s civic involvement has ranged far beyond Scouting. He served on presidential committees and national commissions for three presidents—Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford—and he led the National Academy of Engineering as its first chairman from 1982 to 1986. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Technology, America’s highest honor for technical achievement.