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The creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority

by Franklin D. Roosevelt

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It seemed wise at this time to commence a project which had no parallel in our history. It is true, that beginning ten or twenty years ago, movements had started in various parts of the country to encourage city planning. People realized the tremendous waste of letting cities “grow up like Topsy” without any thinking ahead. Streets were made too narrow, or were located in the wrong places; business sections were overcrowded; suburban developments were mere real estate schemes. Gradually people began asking why should we not plan for the country districts as well as the cities. As Governor of New York, I had sponsored a State-wide planning movement which had its foundation in a study of the problem of the use to which all land should be put. With this went, of course, the purpose of using the land to the best advantage. We undertook to survey all of the thirty million acres in the State by classifying every ten-acre square.

Before I came to Washington I had decided that for many reasons the Tennessee Valley—in other words, all of the watershed of the Tennessee River and its tributaries—would provide an ideal location for a land use experiment on a regional scale embracing many states.

In January I visited Muscle Shoals with a group of officials and experts, and subsequently announced plans for a comprehensive development of the entire Tennessee Valley region. These plans as developed contemplated the creation of a public authority to direct the development of a region comprising hundred of thousands of square miles.

This plan fitted in well with the splendid fight which Senator Norris had been making for the development of power and the manufacture of fertilizer at the Wilson Dam properties which had been erected by the Government during the World War. In enlarging the original objective so as to make it cover the whole Tennessee Valley, Senator Norris and I undertook to include a multitude of human activities and physical developments.

By controlling every river and creek and rivulet in this vast watershed, and by planning for a highly civilized use of the land by the population of the whole area, we believed that we could make a lasting contribution to American life.

It was on April tenth that I sent the following message to the Congress:

“The continued idleness of a great national investment in the Tennessee Valley leads me to ask the Congress for legislation necessary to enlist this project in the service of the people.

“It is clear that the Muscle Shoals development is but a small part of the potential public usefulness of the entire Tennessee River. Such use, if envisioned in its entirety, transcends mere power development: it enters the wide fields of flood control, soil erosion. afforestation, elimination from agricultural use of marginal lands, and distribution and diversification of industry. In short, this power development of war days leads logically to national planning for a complete river watershed involving many States and the future lives and welfare of millions. It touches and gives life to all forms of human concerns.

“I, therefore, suggest to the Congress legislation to create a Tennessee valley Authority—a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise. It should be charged with the broadest duty of planning for the proper use, conservation and development of the natural resources of the Tennessee River drainage basin and adjoining territory for the general social and economic welfare of the nation. This Authority should also be clothed with the necessary power to carry these plans into effect. Its duty should be the rehabilitation of the Muscle Shoals development and the co-ordination of it with the wider plan.

“Many hard lessons have taught us the human waste that results from lack of planning. Here and there a few wise cities and counties have looked ahead and planned. But our nation has “just grown.” It is time to extend planning to a wider field, in this instance comprehending in one great project many States directly concerned with the basin of one of our greatest rivers.

“This in a true sense is a return to the spirit and vision of the pioneer. If we are successful here we can march on, step by step, in a like development of other great natural territorial units within our borders.”}