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TVA Heritage

TVA Heritage tells the story of the agency through the people and events that have shaped its history. It's a story of vision, conflict, and personal and political struggle—in short, all the typical elements of any great human endeavor.

The Great Compromise

When the TVA Act was amended in 1959, a 25-year political struggle over the agency and its operations was essentially resolved and TVA was established as a stable, self-sufficient provider of power for the public good.

Clash of the Titans

In the 1920s, Senator George Norris and automaker Henry Ford tangled over public ownership of Wilson Dam in Alabama. The upshot was the nation's first great experiment in regional public power—TVA.

A Complicated Unity

The seeds of the TVA idea were sown long before Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the agency into existence. Many of them were planted by Gifford Pinchot, who advocated a unified approach to the complex task of resource management.

The Father of Public Power

Boyish in appearance but hardheaded and knowledgeable, David Lilienthal built the TVA power system according to one guiding principle: affordable power for everyone in the Tennessee Valley.

The Great Experiment

In a poetic 1933 article for Fortune magazine, author James Agee introduced TVA to the world at large.

The Common Mooring

A Canadian transplanted to the American South, Director Harcourt Morgan had ties to the land that anchored TVA in the Tennessee Valley’s people and culture.

The Enduring Legacy

Politically, TVA was one of the strangest hybrids in the “alphabet soup” of New Deal agencies. But FDR’s experiment in public power has stood the test of time.

Opening Night at TVA Central

When a local newsman visited TVA’s Knoxville headquarters in 1933, the curtain had just gone up on the TVA story. What he didn’t know was that this was the opening of a long-running hit.

The Visionary

Arthur E. Morgan’s farsighted vision and exacting discipline built a system of dams and social management that changed the lives of millions of Valley residents. But what he couldn’t manage was human nature.

Scientists of the Soil

In the 1930s, TVA turned selected farmers into instant experts on erosion control and asked them to pass the idea along to their neighbors. Before long, Valley agriculture was on the road to recovery.

Valley Bloom

In the 1920s and ’30s, much of the soil in the Tennessee Valley was worn out to the point of worthlessness. Potent fertilizers developed by TVA helped bring the land back to life.

A Shot in the Arm

When TVA set up shop in the 1930s, smallpox and typhoid were still claiming victims in the Tennessee Valley. Twenty years and half a million TVA vaccinations later, they had become rarities.

The Great Electric Tent Show Revival and Jubilee

When Bob Rice and his boys came to town, crowds turned out to hear the stump orators, the country singers, and the good news of TVA electricity that would change their lives.

An American Ideal

New urban theorists are hard at work designing the town of the future. But Norris, Tennessee, built by TVA nearly 70 years ago, beat them all to the punch.

The Big Picture

TVA regional planner Flash Gray possessed a feisty temperament and the ability to take the long view. His contributions to the agency have enriched the whole Valley.

Miracle in the Wilderness

Spurred by wartime necessity, TVA put up the tallest dam east of the Rockies with record speed. The dam no one could get to eventually became the most visited in the TVA system.

TVA Goes to War

The thought probably never crossed the minds of Axis war planners, but America’s World War II arsenal included a potent secret weapon: TVA.

Home-Front Defenders

While the men of the Tennessee Valley fought World War II overseas, the Women Officers of Public Safety helped protect vital TVA facilities here at home.

The Topography of War

The cartographers of TVA’s Maps and Surveys division were among the most admired mapmakers in the country. And that was before they played an important part in winning World War II.

A Reign of Harmony

The style of TVA’s dams has had an undeniable influence on modern architecture. But when the world-renowned architect Le Corbusier visited America in 1946, he was most impressed by TVA’s transformation of the Tennessee Valley.

The Indiana Farmer

Wendell Willkie's spirited opposition to TVA forced the agency to prove its right to exist. His gracious behavior in defeat helped make TVA's existence an accepted fact.

A Dream With Solid Stuff in It

During World War II, Ernie Pyle described the common man’s fight in the common man’s language. But his fame began before the war, when he set out to explain the American experiment called TVA.


Meet Red Wagner, the Everyman who rose through the ranks to become one of TVA's most influential planners and leaders.

The Little Dam That Could

So it’s not the linchpin of the TVA river system. Ocoee Dam No. 2 and its funky flume were front and center at the Olympics, and that flume is now ensconced on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Subtle Fighter

Hardworking, dedicated, and well-informed, Chairman Gordon Clapp broadened TVA’s postwar power base to ensure an unfailing supply of electricity for the people of the Tennessee Valley.

The TVA Idea

Blunt and outspoken, travel writer John Gunther had a habit of letting the chips fall where they may. His tough talk may even have won him a place on a Nazi hit list. But when it came to TVA, he purred like a kitten.

Rummaging Through TVA’s Attic

The TVA Historic Collection houses everything from an antique electric bug zapper to an entire helicopter—the artifacts of 67 years of service to the Tennessee Valley.

The Great Porcelain Experiment

In the 1930s TVA was prepared to try anything to get the region back on its feet—even turning Tennessee Valley clay into fine porcelain.

Design for the Public Good

As TVA brought public power to the Tennessee Valley, TVA architect Roland Wank put design to work for the people.

The Artist With a Camera

When TVA set out to transform life in the Tennessee Valley, Charles Krutch set out to capture the process on film. The result was high art.

The Global View

When TVA set out to reclaim the environmentally devastated Copper Basin, the results could be seen from outer space.

TVA on the New Frontier

When President John F. Kennedy came to Alabama on TVA’s 30th birthday, he was met by flag-waving coeds and a grim-faced George Wallace. His purpose was simple: to claim TVA as a forward outpost on America’s New Frontier.

The Mountaintop Marvel

Scorned at the outset as a scheme worthy of Rube Goldberg, TVA’s pumped-storage generating plant inside Raccoon Mountain became one of the engineering wonders of the Tennessee Valley.

The Name Game

What’s in a name? When it comes to TVA dams, nothing less than a pocket history of the Tennessee River and the people who settled the Valley

Books for the People

Libraries set up to serve TVA dam builders enriched the lives of countless people in remote communities across the Valley

The Philosopher at Fontana

TVA is so obviously a regional and national treasure that we often forget its global impact. But in 1945, Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the world’s greatest thinkers, came to America for the first time, and he proceeded directly to the study of TVA.

The Perpetual Fire

True or not, the real-life folk tale of Erastus R. Lindamood sheds light on TVA’s concern for the Valley’s most valuable asset—its people.

When the World Came to TVA

TVA’s pavilion at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, featured a salty dog, two barges, one floating garden, schools of popcorn-gobbling carp—and, eventually, a million visitors.


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