Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Tennessee Valley Authority

I was reading some more in my largely inherited home library the other day, and I ran across a 1939 Americana Annual for the Grolier Society. It had an article on the TVA from which most of this post material is derived.  I have no idea how accurate or current it was in 1939, but it was probably pretty close.

According to the Grolier Society, it was the great American depression era and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was engaged in a host of solutions - the most famous of which was the New Deal.  But really the New Deal was a conglomerate of policies and programs all making up the total package. 

One segement of the New Deal was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  It was conceived first as a water management and shipping program for the Tennessee River and tributaries, but went quite a bit farther when all was said and done.  Probably the most interesting aspect of this idea was its approach - it was written to be a new federal agency that had the authorities of government with the structure and operations of a private business.  Best of both worlds?  Anyway, Congress bought in and passed this hybrid entity on May 18, 1933.  Between 1933 and 1939, $231,066,270 was appropriated by Congress to implement the legislation.  From the Annual:

"The objectives stipulated in the act are:  Improvement of the navigability of the Tennessee River and the provision for flood control in the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers; provision for the agricultural and industrial development of the Tennessee Valley; provision for the national defense; and the development and distribution of incidental hydroelectric power to the public."

The rest of the article goes on to tell what the TVA was involved in between its inception and 1938.  The first statement says:  "control of the water resources of the region implies control of water on land, with consequent checking of erosion, improvement of agricultural conditions, retarded flood runoff, and increased groundwater storage."  The TVA was also involved in two Nitrate plants, massive tree reseeding operations, malarial research, the study of occupational diseases, development of freight terminals, the installation of hydroelectric plants, the planned building of nine dams, experiments in developing large cooler containers and various ag pursuits including improved cottonseed oil production, high quality sorghum syrup, better flax fibers for cotton textile equipment, electrical curing of hay and dehydration of sweet potatoes.

They even dabbled in public water supply improvements like the single water supply for Wilder, TN in 1942. (Shown below) 

The operation of a governmental entity under private corporation practices did seem to provide a learning curve, though. It wasn't long before the TVA was being federally investigated over allegations of its business practices and accounting, and its director, Arthur E. Morgan, was dismissed by President Roosevelt for "contumacy" when he refused to answer questions about a land deal involving a Senator. Anyway, I find the water issues related to the TVA far more interesting.

I had to chuckle a bit when I discovered the editors for the 1939 Annual to be McDannald and McDonnell, and other contributing editors included McGrail, McKinney, McMahon, McMahon and McNinch.  It's surprising they didn't get the company name changed to McGrolier.


  1. Very interesting history lesson. I was not too familiar with the TVA, and it's interesting how they originated, especially with the structure they originated with (the 'best of both worlds' structure).

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Well Pump Service: I wasn't very familiar with TVA either other than knowing they were a super entity involved in a lot of things.

    I raised one eyebrow when from the original mission they deduced that everything remotely tied to river flows - including groundwater storage - was at issue. Very typical federal government conclusion. However, if Tennessee had not already had groundwater laws in place in 1933, perhaps it was for the best. Who knows.

    I have to say, however, their public water supply improvements look like they didn't have a lot going for them if the pictured one was typical. Thanks for the comment. WAB