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the history of tva

The TVA Timeline

From the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act on May 18, 1933 until the present, TVA has carried out a lot of important projects. What each of TVA's undertakings has in common has been their ability to make life better for people who live in the Tennessee Valley.


President Roosevelt remained in office throughout the 1930s, and during this period TVA played an important role in helping the families, farms, and businesses in the Tennessee Valley recover from the nationwide economic slump known as The Great Depression.

Even by Depression standards, the Tennessee Valley was in sad shape in 1933. Much of the land had been farmed too hard for too long, which had worn out the soil. Many farmers were barely growing enough food to feed their families.

Dam Construction

TVA built dams to harness the region's rivers. The dams controlled floods, improved navigation and generated electricity.

During its early years, TVA developed fertilizers and new agricultural methods that helped farmers grow more food. TVA also improved habitats for wildlife and fish.

The most dramatic change in Valley life, however, came from the electricity generated by the hydroelectric dams built by TVA. For the first time, rural areas of the Tennessee Valley were able to have electric lights and modern appliances such as refrigerators. This made life easier and farms more productive.

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During the 1940s, most Americans were involved in our nation's efforts to win World War II. The Tennessee Valley Authority did its part for the war effort as well. During World War II, the United States needed aluminum to build bombs and airplanes, and aluminum plants required electricity. To provide power for such important war industries, TVA engaged in one of the largest dam building programs ever undertaken in the United States.

Early in 1942, when the effort reached its peak, 12 hydroelectric projects and a steam plant were being built at the same time, and 28,000 Americans were working on these TVA projects.

During World War II, Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska, known as the Father of TVA, said, “I have been everlastingly proud of the great contributions TVA has made, which cannot be fully revealed until peace returns to a tortured world.” He is shown here visiting Norris Dam.

George Norris at Dam

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The years following the end of World War II were a time of great growth and prosperity in the United States. The need for electricity in the southeastern United States was growing.

By the end of the war, TVA had become our nation's largest electricity supplier. Even so, the demand for electricity for homes, farms and businesses was greater than TVA's ability to produce power from its existing hydroelectric dams. Coal plants were introduced.

In 1959 the U.S. Congress passed a law ending the federal government's direct financial support for TVA. From that point until today, TVA has been self-supporting, with electricity production funding its many important environmental programs and operation of the dams and locks on the Tennessee River.

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During this decade, the population and power needs of the Tennessee Valley grew faster than ever before. TVA began building nuclear plants as a new source of dependable and affordable electricity.

interior of browns ferry nuclear plant TVA began building Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Alabama, in 1966. When Browns Ferry started making electricity in 1974 it was the biggest nuclear plant in the world.

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1970s and 80s

During the 1970s and 1980s, many of the world's oil-producing nations joined together to raise the price of fuel. This meant that Americans paid more for gasoline to run their cars and electricity to run their homes and businesses.

Because of this, Tennessee Valley residents looked for ways to lower their need for electricity. They saved energy by using better insulation and more efficient home heating and cooling systems. TVA began looking for ways to help its customers save energy and lower their electric bills.

As the cost of power went up, TVA became a national leader in promoting energy conservation.

Installing Insulation

Also during the 1970s and 1980s, TVA made the decision to cancel the building of several nuclear plants. TVA realized that lower energy usage in the Valley meant the plants were not needed.

TVA in the Modern Era

In the 1990s and into the 21st century, TVA has been busy developing green power programs, protecting the environment and developing clean and efficient electricity production. With more people in the Valley needing more power, TVA has started up a new nuclear power unit at its Watts Bar plant.

In 1998 TVA began a new program to help make the air cleaner and reduce the pollutants that cause ozone and smog. Modern equipment is being added to TVA's coal-fired plants to reduce chemicals called sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These projects should be finished by 2018 and will cost TVA more than $6 billion. They have already cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 94 percent since regulations began in 1977, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 91 percent since 1995.

Even with new, high-tech machines and modern ways of working, TVA remains committed to its original jobs: creating electricity, finding people jobs and protecting the land from floods.

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