OT: Tennessee Valley Authority

“TVA: Two Decades of Progress,” US Government Printing Office, 1953. This 76-page pamphlet is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s annual report to Congress for the year ended June 30, 1952. Sections describe TVA history, its role in National Defense, Water Control, Engineering Development, Fertilizers, Forestry, Local Flood Control, and people.

TVA was created in 1933 by the New Deal to develop the economy of the Tennessee River watershed–comprising 201 counties in Tennessee and adjacent states. The report compares changes dating from 1929. The core is electric power plants–mostly hydroelectric plants and some coal fired plants. TVA is the largest electric utility in the US. They also are a large coal buyer for their steam power plants.

The area had been mostly small farms. Charts show major increases in manufacturing. In 1947, major industries were textiles, chemicals, apparel, lumber, metals, and food. Chemical production includes the Oak Ridge atomic energy program (and a recent expansion at Paducah) as well as rayon, nylon, phosphorus, alkalis, chlorine, plastics, drugs, fertilizers, and gum and wood chemicals.

Agriculture has improved in part due to phosphate fertilizers developed by TVA. Rural areas have been electrified. In 1933, one farm in 28 had electricity; today seven out of eight are electrified. Tractor ownership has increased by a factor of five. Since 1929, net farm income has more than doubled.

During World War II, hydroelectric power allowed a major increase in the production of aluminum. More recently aluminum production has moved to cheap natural gas. Chemical plants in Calvert City, KY arrived due to power supplied by TVA.

Water control helps reduce flooding and improves reliability for barge traffic and other uses. TVA treats its reservoirs to control malaria. At the time DDT was applied from the air. Parks and water recreation are part of the program.

During the war, TVA research facilities worked on classified defense projects. Phosphate fertilizers are a major area. Three pilot plants are studying products. Most phosphate fertilizers require treatment of phosphate rock with sulfuric acid. TVA is developing methods that don’t require sulfur. Supplies of bone meal were cut off by the war. TVA developed dicalcium phosphate as a substitute. Smelting in an electric furnace to make elemental phosphorus was a major research effort. There are now seven producers of furnace acid. Those named include FMC, Monsanto, Victor Chemical (later Stauffer), and American Agricultural Chemical.

TVA manufactures and sells about 4% of the fertilizer produced in the US. That includes an ammonia plant and ammonium nitrate. They support experimental farms (2451 farms in 21 states) to encourage use of fertilizer. Major yield improvements were demonstrated. They also work to improve forests.

This is a concise description of TVA. Photos.


TVA is quite an amazing story, a legacy of FDR’s New Deal. At the beginning the Tennessee rivers ran wild, often flooding residents out of their homes, killing farm animals and worse; after the spring rains many would dry up or become stagnant leading to 30% of the population having malaria at one point or another in their lives.

An integrated plan was developed not just to control the river flow for spring but to provide power for industry, insure the rivers could be used for barge traffic, and rid the territory of malaria, it morphed into an all encompassing power grid unto itself. It now comprises dozens of coal plants, nuclear plants, hydro from dozens of dams (including at least one pumped hydro), solar and wind facilities, and covers Tennessee and parts of another half dozen states. It’s HUGE! We live here and have some of the lowest cost electricity in the country.

While a raging success, the program became embroiled in political controversy and proposals to repeat the plan in the Pacific Northwest and perhaps elsewhere foundered.

Too bad, really. It’s the kind of government infrastructure program that the US once took on with vigor (see: Panama Canal, Interstate Highway system, WWII/Marshall Plan, etc.) that we seem to have lost the appetite for.


Pretty seldom you see @Goofyhoofy use an exclamation point :wink: