By 1940, substantial progress had been made in agriculture, power production and flood control. As the Tennessee Valley economy began to grow, World War II heightened the urgency of TVA’s mission.
TVA’s principal contribution to the war effort was the massive amount of electricity it supplied – about 75 percent of its total capacity – by rushing to completion a series of hydroelectric dams. In 1941, TVA began construction of Douglas Dam and completed it a mere 13 months later – still a world record for a dam of its size.
But even with Douglas and nine other dams under construction, hydropower was not enough to support the Valley’s wartime aluminum refining and uranium enrichment. Hence, TVA built Watts Bar Steam Plant, its first coal-fired generating plant.
During the war, TVA also produced thousands of tons of chemicals for making explosives and synthetic rubber and mapped nearly a half-million square miles of largely enemy-held territory.
After the war, more industries were attracted to the region by the low-cost power and other advantages made possible by TVA. The filling of Kentucky Reservoir in 1945 helped reduce flooding outside the Valley and opened the Tennessee River to year-round commercial navigation along its entire length, allowing direct access to world markets via the Mississippi River.
To encourage farm families to take advantage of the power that was becoming available, TVA set up demonstration farms to show how electrical equipment could save money and established an agency to help residents buy basic appliances.
TVA’s work began drawing attention overseas, particularly in developing countries, many of which sent official delegations to TVA facilities to learn more.