10 ⋆ The Battle for Public Power in the Twenties

THE establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 -- leading to an achievement so monumental that one economist has called it a "social resurrection"1 -- owed a great deal to political ground-clearing actions undertaken in the 1920's. One of these actions was the frustrating of efforts to lease the Muscle Shoals dam and plants in the Tennessee Valley to private interests. Another was the laying of plans, the preparation of public opinion, and the introduction of legislation for government operation of power projects in the Tennessee Valley and on the Colorado River. Both of these accomplishments can be attributed in large part to the perserverance of two legislators: George Norris in the Senate and Fiorello LaGuardia in the House of Representatives.

At Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in the denuded and neglected Tennessee Valley, by turns flooded and arid, the government had begun building a dam and two nitrate plants during the war in order to increase the production of explosives.2 When the war ended, and after $150,000,000 had been spent, Congress cut off funds for the unfinished dam, and a number of private companies, seeing immense possibilities in the Valley, began to bid for the right to develop the site. By 1924 the leading contender was the Henry

____________________
1
Broadus Mitchell, Depression Decade ( New York, 1947), 340.
2
Section 124 of the National Defense Act of 1916 authorized this. See Preston Hubbard, The Muscle Shoals Controversy (Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1955), 2.

-122-

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