The Lake of the Ozarks is a large reservoir created by impounding the Osage River in the northern part of the Ozarks in central Missouri. Extents of three smaller tributaries to the Osage -- the Niangua River, Grand Glaize Creek, and Gravois Creek -- are included in the imp. The lake has a surface area of 55,000 acres, more than 1,150 miles of shoreline, and the Main Channel of the Osage Arm stretches 92 miles from Bagnell Dam to Truman Dam. The total drainage area is more than 14,000 square miles. The lake's serpentine shape has earned it the nickname "The Magic Dragon," which has in turn inspired the names of local institutions such as The Magic Dragon Street Meet
A hydro-electric power plant on the Osage River was first pursued by Kansas City developer Ralph Street in 1912. Street put together the initial funding and began building roads, railroads and infrastructure necessary to begin construction of the dam, with a plan to impound a much smaller lake. In the mid-1920s, Street’s funding dried up and he abandoned the effort.
The lake was created by the construction of the 2,543-foot long Bagnell Dam by Union Electric Company of St. Louis. The principal engineering firm was Stone and Webster. Construction began August 6, 1929, and was completed in April 1931. The dam is operated and maintained by AmerenUE, the successor to Union Electric, under the authority of a permit issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Lake of the Ozarks reaches into four different Missouri counties -- Miller, Morgan, Camden and Benton. The massive body of water backed up behind Bagnell Dam is the largest man-made lake in the Midwest.
During construction the lake was referred to as Osage Reservoir or Lake Osage. The Missouri General Assembly officially named it Lake Benton after the former Sen. Thomas Hart Benton. None of the names took as it was popularly referred to by its location in the Ozarks. The electric generating station, however, is still referred to by the utility company as the "Osage Hydroelectric Plant.”
At the time of construction it was one of the largest man-made lakes in the world and the largest in the United States. Though built to provide hydroelectric power for customers of Union Electric, the lake quickly became a significant tourist destination for the Midwest. There are more than 70,000 homes existing along the lake, many of which are vacation homes. Spectacular scenery characteristic of the Ozarks has also helped to transform the lake into a major resort area. More than 3 million people visit the lake annually.
The Lake of the Ozarks is unique in the fact that it is the largest man-made, non-flood control lake in the United States. The lake rarely varies in surface elevation by more than 5 feet, with normal pool elevation of 660.0 feet above mean sea level. Unlike many flood-control lakes constructed by the Corps of Engineers, most of the shoreline on the Lake of the Ozarks is privately owned, and the relatively stable surface elevation has created ideal conditions for private development within a few feet of the shoreline.