Electricity and the Public Good: Private-Public Power Debates in the 1920s-30s

Module Elements

Who should develop and control electric power resources? In the 1920s and 1930s, private electric companies struggled with state and federal governments over how the vital new infrastructure would be built and made accessible. Advocates of public power included Nebraska Senator George Norris, who called for federal development of the Muscle Shoals dam site in Alabama. Proponents of public initiative prevailed with the passage of the Tennessee Valley Act in 1933 and the subsequent development of the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest. The Rural Electrification Administration also gave the federal government responsibility for bringing electricity to rural areas across the country.  On the other side, critics attacked these government-led energy programs as socialistic, and warned that the government should not compete directly with private industry.


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