The film showcases Council Bluffs as a progressive city on the cutting edge of technology. To this end, it consists largely of shots of local industry separated by descriptive inter-titles. It was shot at the dawn of the automotive age and devotes extensive footage to the manufacturing of petroleum products and oil barrels, explains a description submitted by the Library. Also featured are automobiles, street cars, fueling stations, electric cars, and other emerging transportation technologies. So, although the film was intended to reestablish Council Bluffs’ position as a major transportation hub of the Midwest, its vivid portrait of a once great railroad town struggling to adapt to the automotive age is of broad historical interest.
In the last half of the nineteenth century, says the Library’s description, Council Bluffs seemed destined to become the major transportation and business hub of the Midwest. As a major outfitting point on the Missouri River, it supplied explorers, prospectors, gold seekers, and Mormons with provisions for their westward treks. Later in that century, when President Abraham Lincoln named Council Bluffs the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad, the frontier town was transformed by entrepreneurs like railroad pioneer Grenville Mellon Dodge into a major railroad center and the converging point of several railways.
The 20th century brought economic stagnation and a declining population to Council Bluffs. City leaders commissioned Man Power in 1930 to try to draw progressive business people back to the city and restart its faltering economy.