The Tennessee Valley Authority Brings Electricity and Prosperity to the South
This guest post was contributed by Phil Kadner, an award-winning Chicago journalist.
It was socialism, no doubt about it. The U.S. government created its own power company, purchased private utility companies, built dams, and brought electricity for the first time to rural areas.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created in 1933 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Tennessee River often overflowed, destroying farms and spreading disease, especially malaria. About 30 percent of the families in the region were earning less than $700 a year, terrible even by Depression-era standards, and some lived on less than $100.
And while 90 percent of urban residents had access to electricity at the time, only about 10 percent of rural America could say the same.
Private utility companies found it expensive to run electric lines to remote rural areas so simply ignored them if they couldn’t make a profit. In other areas, they engaged in price gouging of their customers making power inaccessible to the common man.
gouged customers with so Roosevelt wanted to create an agency with the authority of the federal government, but run like a private corporation. That’s how the TV was born.
Between 1933 and 1934, The TVA would build 16 dams. It employed nearly 10,000 people by 1934 (when much of the country was unemployed)j. And it brought flood relief, electricity and economic benefits to Alabama, George, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia.
At the time, dams were built for only one of two purposes, flood relief or hydroelectric power. The TVA concept, to build dams that could do both, spread not only throughout the United States, but became a model for the world.
At the same time, TVA officials helped farmers learn about crop rotation, planted trees in regions that had been deforested, and gave people cheap access to electricity to they could install electric lights in their homes for the first time. With this electricity, some people could use appliances in their homes that made life easier, while businesses became more productive.
The process wasn’t always smooth, however, as more than 15,000 people had to be relocated off their farms due to the dam construction, causing initial resistance to the government’s efforts.
Nonetheless, by the time Republican Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, the TVA had become a valued member of the community. Goldwater, a conservative who hated socialism, suggested he would sell the TVA for $1 to any private company willing to buy it. Voters in Tennessee responding with an outpouring of support for Democrat Lyndon Johnson in Tennessee.
Ironically, it was a Democrat, President Barack Obama, who threatened to sell the TVA to a private utility company most recently when the public company ran up a debt in the billions of dollars.
But the TVA continues to this day, having played a key role in the creation of the atomic bomb and providing power for aluminum production needed to make airplanes during World War II.
The reforestation program it sponsored reduced the number of fires, while crop production boomed due to new agricultural methods and improved drainage. The TVA also improved navigation of the local waterways.
It has been called the most successful program of the New Deal.