Creating a "different citizen": the federal development of the Tennessee Valley, 1915-1960

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University of Alabama Libraries

This dissertation describes the process of cooperation and contestation by which residents, civic leaders, state officials, and federal politicians in the Tennessee Valley encouraged the economic development of their rapidly changing region. Beginning in 1916, when the Woodrow Wilson administration authorized construction of a hydroelectric dam and nitrate-producing plants at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, federal investment provided the means by which communities created (or attempted to create) prosperity by encouraging industrial development in a dying agricultural economy. The debates over Muscle Shoals led to the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, but federal officials found that Valley residents rejected broad-based social reorganization in favor of directed economic investment. During the "Gunbelt" defense boom of World War II, Valley leaders increased calls for development, especially at Huntsville, where the inconsistency of federal funds led community leaders to develop a modern, professional industrial recruitment campaign. In the Tennessee Valley, and across the South, the Sunbelt economy emerged as locals encouraged federal investment in order to bring development while rejecting and redirecting broader calls for social change. Historians have only recently begun to investigate the complicated process by which the southern economy modernized in the twentieth century, but none have provided an in-depth exploration of the long-term growth of one particular region, such as the Tennessee Valley. Drawing on local records, numerous Valley newspapers, and federal records, this dissertation traces the process by which Valley residents attempted to attract industries and businesses to the region. As such, this research provides insight into the birth of the modern southern economy.

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History, United States, Economics, History