As storm clouds gathered in Europe, the nation’s leaders began to prepare for war. In 1939, Kiewit took a $7.5 million contract to build 760 barracks and related facilities at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 90 days. This was the company’s largest contract to date. The work had just begun when the U.S. Army more than doubled the size of the contract to 1,540 buildings, with no increase in time.
The lessons of successfully completing Fort Lewis helped the company participate in the wartime construction effort. Kiewit built additional army bases, military airfields and other facilities throughout the Great Plains, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states, as well as Alaska and the Yukon. Kiewit also constructed the massive Martin Bomber Plant south of Omaha.
It was during the war that Kiewit began its coal mining operations. Coal from the Big Horn Mine near Sheridan, Wyoming, was shipped to Hanford, Washington. Only after the war was it learned that the coal shipped to the plant was used to manufacture the nation's first atomic bombs.
By this point, Kiewit had constructed more than $500 million of military work, and the company received the coveted Army-Navy E Award (for excellence). The wartime effort also served to give the company experience working in many new geographic areas.