Phyllis Cannon Wattis
Interviewed by John Sillito
18 June 2001
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Phyllis Cannon Wattis
18 June 2001
Copyright © 2011 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
The Oral History Program of the Stewart Library was created to preserve the institutional history of Weber
State University and the Davis, Ogden and Weber County communities. By conducting carefully
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Interviews are conducted with the goal of eliciting from each participant a full and accurate account of
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recording so researchers can gain a sense of the interviewee's voice and intonations.
The Utah Construction Company/Utah International Inc. Oral History Project was created to capture the
memories of individuals associated with the company. Several of the interviewees are family and
relatives, others are personalities involved with Utah Construction Company/Utah International Inc. and
some of the company’s prominent figures.
Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-informed interviewer, with
the goal of preserving substantive additions to the historical record. Because it is primary material, oral
history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Phyllis Cannon Wattis, an oral history by
John Sillito, 18 June 2001, WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, Special
Collections, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
Abstract: This is an oral history interview with Phyllis Cannon Wattis. It was
conducted by John Sillito of Weber State University, in Mrs. Wattis’ home in San
Francisco, on June 18, 2001. Mrs. Wattis married Paul Lyman Wattis in 1934 and
in the interview she discusses her experiences with the Wattis family and Utah
JS: This is an oral history interview with Mrs. Phyllis Wattis. It is being conducted in
her home in San Francisco, California, on Monday, June 18, 2001. Mrs. Wattis,
will you tell me a little about your early life? Where were you born and who were
PW: I was born in Salt Lake City and I grew up there. I went to the University of Utah
for a couple of years, and then I transferred to the University of California. I got
my degree at Berkeley.
JS: What year was that?
PW: It was 1928, I believe.
JS: And what was your maiden name?
PW: My maiden name was Cannon. My father was Willard Cannon.
JS: And your mother's name?
PW: My mother's name was Carolyn. Carolyn Cannon.
JS: I see. And you went to high school in Salt Lake?
PW: I went to East Side High School and then the University of Utah before I
transferred to the University of California.
JS: Why did you decide to go to Berkeley?
PW: Who knows? I wanted a change of scene, I think. I mean, I spent all my life in
Salt Lake, and I really wanted to study in Europe. That was out of the question,
so the compromise was that I could come here for school. I enjoyed it.
JS: What did you major in?
PW: My major was economics.
JS: Were there a lot of social activities at Berkeley in those years?
PW: Oh, there were a lot. It was a much smaller school then. The total enrollment was
about 10,000, which was predominantly male, I think.
JS: And did you live in Berkeley?
PW: Yes, I lived in Berkeley. We did a lot of commuting to San Francisco by ferryboat.
I loved San Francisco. I thought San Francisco was the most glamorous,
wonderful place in the world.
JS: It still is.
PW: Yes, I feel that way about it.
JS: Tell me how and when you met your husband.
PW: We were often at the same parties. He lived in Ogden—I mean his family—but
the families went back and forth to parties in Salt Lake. That’s how I met Pat.
Then we married. Nothing spectacular. His father died just about a month before
we planned to be married, so we scaled down the wedding. It was quite small.
After the wedding, we lived in Ogden for a couple of years. At that time, the
headquarters of the company was based there, but then they moved it. They
were working on the Boulder Dam and the preliminary work was being done
here. Actually, I think Pat's father was the president when died; before that, W.H.
Wattis had been president. They both died in office.
JS: What was your husband's full name?
PW: Paul Lyman Wattis.
JS: And his father's name was?
PW: Edmund O., but they called him E.O. They called the other brother W.H.
JS: Did you know your husband's father before his death?
PW: I knew him. Actually, I was staying at the house when he died—the night he died.
But I didn't know him well. I mean, I met him because I was engaged to Pat. I
went up there and had dinner often, and our families met, but he was out of town
a great deal; he was spending a lot of time in San Francisco.
JS: When did you get married?
PW: We got married in 1934—in Salt Lake at my family's house.
JS: When did you move to San Francisco?
PW: We moved to San Francisco in 1936 because my husband was working for the
company when they changed headquarters. I don't know just exactly what his
position was. He was treasurer or secretary. Anyway, he was on the board, so
when the company moved, we moved here to San Francisco.
JS: Was the move related to the Boulder Dam Project?
PW: Well, the Boulder Dam Project was one of the things that was going on, and
possibly the biggest thing that they were engaged in by then. I think the Wattis
brothers also had the railroad business and the big ranch in Nevada where they
raised mules. They built a lot of railroads. You know the company history?
JS: A little bit.
PW: And my husband had been sent down to work on the railroad in Guadalajara,
Mexico. He'd been sent down as a young student to work on the project.
JS: So he'd been really involved with the company since he was a young man.
JS: Was that true with his siblings as well?
PW: He had one brother who died, and one brother, Ray, who was in business for
himself. Pat was the only brother in the family business.
JS: And what about W.H. Wattis? Was his family quite involved in the business?
PW: Well, they were involved, but then there was a great falling-out. I didn't know
much about it. It was among the elders of the family and I was just a new
member; I didn't know all the background of it. But I know that we didn't ever see
very much of the W.H. family. W.H. didn't have any sons, he just had daughters:
Mary and Stella.
JS: It must have been a big step when the company moved headquarters to San
PW: Oh, it was. They had branch offices in the Crocker Bank, so it was just a matter
of moving the operations. Boulder Dam was at the beginning stage. When Pat
and I were married, we went from Ogden to Los Angeles on our honeymoon. He
had a couple of sisters that lived there. We went down to Boulder Dam and that
was part of our trip. They let us stay a few days in one of the big houses that they
had for entertaining VIPs.
That was when I really became interested in Boulder Dam because they
took me all around and showed me how it was being built and what was going to
happen. At that time, they were just assembling their materials. I was fascinated
with it, and I saw the progress many times through its completion. I walked
around those strips that separated the squares when they were pouring the
concrete. I went down to the floor of the canyon in that skiff that they used for
pouring concrete. I rode up the face of the dam on the open elevator. I thought it
was a wonderful experience.
JS: It sounds like a wonderful experience. I gather they were working almost twenty-four
hours a day on those projects.
PW: Oh, yes, they had a very tight schedule. There were six companies involved.
JS: Right. Did you socialize or travel with others who were part of Utah Construction
but who weren't family?
PW: Yes, I don't know that I did many trips with them, but I knew all of them. They had
company parties. I always went to those. I entertained many of them in my home
and some of the Bechtels became friendly with some of the associates, too. In
fact, I got to know the Bechtels quite well.
JS: Did you?
PW: They were all associated with the Shasta Dam, too, and with the big one up in
Seattle. We went up to that; it was the one that Henry Kaiser was interested in.
So yes, it went as far as socializing. I knew them all and we went to some of the
JS: My sense of the company in the pre-1950 period is that it was pretty small in
terms of the number of people, but then it grew dramatically. Is that accurate?
PW: After the dam was finished the war came in; that diverted a lot of interest in
things. Each of the six companies had, even during the Boulder Dam
construction, developed other individual things. Kaiser went into shipbuilding;
Bechtel went into the oil industry with the Arabian countries and then urban
planning; Morrison-Knudsen was one of the companies based in Boise, Idaho,
and they became an international company of their own. Utah diverged from
construction into mining properties.
JS: It was a big step when Utah Construction went into mining.
PW: While they were engaged in the dam construction, they had acquired mining and
lumber properties. I think that the first big thing they developed after Boulder
Dam was in Peru. They changed the name of the company from Utah
Construction to Utah Construction and Mining. Then they sold off a lot of the
mining property. They were really an international company involved in all sorts
of things all over the world, so later it became Utah International.
JS: Were you able to travel to some of the places where the company was involved?
PW: I did a lot of traveling, yes. I've been all over Australia to see the company's
projects. And all over Peru.
JS: When the company merged with General Electric, that must have been a major
event in a lot of ways.
PW: It was, but it was after my husband died. I'm sorry, I don't know much about it. It
was actually a merger—a real merger with an exchange of stock. My husband
died in 1971 and I think the merger was in 1976.
JS: So your husband worked for Utah Construction all of his life.
PW: Oh yes. His role changed slightly after we moved down here. He was given not
so much of the construction, but was handling the insurance end of it, instead.
JS: I see. You mentioned his father died right before you got married, but his mother
lived quite a while, didn't she?
PW: Yes, she lived for several years after he died. She remained in Ogden. Her
name was Martha Bybee. It was a very close-knit family.
JS: Because it was such a close-knit family, the family was still involved with the
company in many ways after it merged with GE. That must have been a major
PW: It was a major change because it was not spun off as a separate company. It
was actually a merger. I think GE wanted some of those properties that Utah
had, which were later spun off and developed into Broken Hill and some of the
Australian companies. Utah still retained a presence there.
JS: One person whose name is always associated with Utah International is Ed
Littlefield. What sort of a person is Ed?
PW: Well, Ed Littlefield changed the company. Ed had gone into the government
when the war was declared. I don't know if he was actually in the army, but he
was in Washington.
JS: In the government?
PW: Yes, as assistant to one of the big men in the government. He'd graduated from
Stanford Business School and when he first came back, he went to work for the
Golden State Dairy. After that, he was asked to come into Utah and he used
some of the expertise that he had picked up at the business school. He was a
major force in consolidating all the disparate parts of the company.
JS: He's a Wattis through his mother, right?
PW: His name was Edmund Wattis Littlefield. His mother was Mrs. Marguerite Wattis
Littlefield. He used to go by the name of Wattis Littlefield; it was too hard to
pronounce, so he went by Ed. He's a wonderful man.
JS: Are there other memories or information that you feel that are important that I
haven't asked you?
PW: Utah has done many things. I think the most dramatic is the Boulder Dam, but
there were others that were equally important. Then, of course, they lost the Utah
identity because they became associated with other companies like Broken Hills
in Australia. And Bechtel has gone on...Bechtel and Utah have had a lot of close
JS: It's amazing when you think about that company starting in Ogden, and then all it
accomplished in seventy-five years or so.
PW: It is amazing. But even when they were in Ogden, they were always doing
things. They were doing important railroad work all through the West, and in
Mexico, and they were laying the groundwork for other things that came later.
JS: They had a major impact here in San Francisco. They were involved in lots of
construction here and over in the East Bay.
PW: And so were their associates, the Bechtels particularly. The three companies—
Utah, Bechtel, and Kaiser—all had a major impact on the San Francisco Bay
JS: Thank you, Mrs. Wattis.
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