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Tennessee Valley Authority


If you had family in the Tennessee Valley during the early twentieth century, they were probably having a hard time. The land along the Tennessee River was degraded by decades of over-farming. Poverty was a way of life for rural communities. Electricity was exorbitantly expensive.

And that was before the Great Depression!

When the nation plunged into crisis, FDR’s government knew that the people of the Tennessee Valley would be among the most affected. The TVA was established in 1933 to improve the operations of the river, conserve the surrounding area, and improve the well-being of the residents. But what did that mean for the people living there?

For a start, it meant electricity. Power companies were reluctant to supply rural areas — the massive amounts of infrastructure required were extremely expensive. The TVA built dams and power plants that helped lift the region out of the dark ages. By the 1990s, over 7 million people were getting power from the TVA.

It also meant huge improvements to the economy. The TVA established model farms to spread modern farming techniques. It planted millions of trees to reforest the valley and fight soil erosion. It employed thousands of people in construction jobs. It greatly improved how navigable the river is. And the reservoirs the TVA built are even leisure destinations today, bringing billions of dollars into the region.

None of this came without costs. While many families only felt the positive effects, some 20,000 families had to be relocated as populated areas were flooded — and it wasn’t just living people who needed to be moved. More than 20,000 burial plots were relocated, too.

If you have roots in the Tennessee Valley region, there’s a good chance the TVA is the reason your grandparents had electricity. Did the TVA make your family’s life a little brighter?
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