Date of Award

5-2005

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

History

Major Professor

Robert J. Norrell

Committee Members

William Bruce Wheeler, Kurt Piehler, Charles S. Aiken

Abstract

This dissertation examines how the Tennessee Valley Authority responded to, and was affected by, the demands placed upon this agency by America’s participation in the Second World War. Established by Congress in May 1993 at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Authority was charged with physical alteration and rehabilitation, and the economic revitalization of the Tennessee River basin and watershed. These tasks included making the river suitable for ship and barge navigation; achieving flood control through a system of dams on the main river and its tributaries; and producing, transmitting, and selling electric power. During the period covered in this study, from autumn of 1938 through the end of the war, TVA played a vital role in the war effort. In doing this, the Authority accomplished most of its inaugural mandate while protecting itself from congressional proscription and abolition.

As one of the three main Allied nations, the United States became the primary supplier of the munitions, armaments, and materiel necessary to defeat the Axis Powers. To achieve this, the United States needed electrical power on an unprecedented scale and the Authority, by expanding its existing system, was well-placed to help provide this output. Between 1940 and 1945, TVA built seven dams and a steam-generating plant, and installed eleven hydroelectric units at various existing dams. With this increased capacity, the Authority generated 46.7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, with 75 percent of this total going to such war production and products as making aluminum, manufacturing aircraft, and creating the specialized uranium for the atomic bomb.

When it came to socioeconomic matters, however, the Authority had a mixed record. Wartime realities spurred the growth of a movement for racial justice in a region based upon the cornerstones of white supremacy and segregation. TVA, consequently, continued to acquiesce to the South’s racial mores and customs-a choice that had both practical and moral ramifications. Massive federal spending, meanwhile, aided the South’s wartime and postwar economic rise. External factors and internal realities, however, constrained the Authority’s attempts to shape both the nature and direction of this growth.

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