Tennessee Valley Authority

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Tennessee Valley Authority

The Norris Dam was one of the first major projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1942. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
The Norris Dam was one of the first major projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1942.

In 1933, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt approved the passage of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act (16 U.S.C.A. § 831 et seq.). The act provided for a source of hydroelectric power, control of a troublesome flood situation, revitalization of forest areas, and navigation and economic benefits for the region. These goals, announced during a devastating nationwide depression, made the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) an ambitious project of the era.

The idea for the project was originally developed in 1918, when two nitrate facilities and a dam were constructed at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, on the Tennessee River. Previously the area had been prone to severe floods, and water travel was impeded by sandbanks. The area had abundant natural resources, but the surrounding basin was depleted, and the region had experienced a depressed economy even before the hard times suffered throughout the nation in the Depression of the 1930s.

Politicians and developers of the project envisioned a growth of industry and water power in the Tennessee Valley, as well as the manufacture of low-priced fertilizer and public control of the valuable resources. Debates over whether the project area should be rented to private parties or be controlled by the government continued throughout the 1920s. Senator george w. norris of Nebraska was instrumental in the passage of measures by Congress advocating government control, but these bills did not receive presidential approval until 1933, when Roosevelt based his Tennessee Valley plan on the Norris proposals.

Roosevelt's Tennessee Valley Act authorized the establishment of a corporation owned by the federal government and directed by Arthur E. Morgan, the chairman, and Harcourt A. Morgan, and David Lilienthal. The early years of TVA were fraught with adversity, particularly when its constitutionality was questioned. Disputes between the directors and an investigation conducted by Congress hampered its initial achievements, but the TVA continued its work despite these difficulties.

The TVA succeeded in its projected goals. Since the development of its dams and reservoirs, the region has not been subjected to serious floods. The electrical system developed by the TVA afforded the region power at a low cost, and throughout the decades, power development has been extended to include coal and nuclear systems. The TVA also benefited agrarian interests by encouraging conservation, replenishment of forests, and agricultural and fertilizer research. Although the power program of the TVA is financially self-supporting today, other programs conducted by the authority are financed primarily by appropriations from Congress.

Further readings

Colignon, Richard A. 1997. Power Plays: Critical Events in the Institutionalization of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

Creese, Walter L. 1990. TVA's Public Planning: The Vision, the Reality. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press.

References in periodicals archive ?
Winding a 53-mile-long course from Pickwick Landing Dam in Tennessee to Wilson Dam in Alabama, Pickwick boasts nearly 490 miles of shoreline and more than 43,000 acres of water surface.
An exploration of TVA's wetlands and Florence's popular Wilson Dam gave participants insight on how TVA works to protect the region's environment and support economic development in the area.
Following graduation, he joined the Tennessee Valley Authority in September 1940 as junior clerk-stenographer at Wilson Dam, Ala.