In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, TVA began work on what would become a revolutionary model for integrated resource management focused on energy, the environment and economic development.
From its headquarters in the Federal Customs House in downtown Knoxville, TVA planned a vast transmission system and a network of multipurpose dams to reduce flooding from the Tennessee River and produce reliable and affordable electricity. By the end of the decade, TVA had begun construction on eight hydroelectric dams and placed three into operation – Norris, Wheeler and Pickwick Landing.
TVA also went to work on the agricultural challenges facing the region in which decades of poor land use had eroded eight million acres of farmland, and 10 percent of the region’s forests succumbed to wildfires each year.
At its facilities in Muscle Shoals, Ala., TVA began producing fertilizers to restore agricultural productivity in the region. TVA taught farmers better ways to manage their land by terracing, contour farming, strip cropping and replacing row crops on hillsides with grass or close-growing crops or trees.
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.