“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Muscle Shoals in Colbert County, Alabama — The American South (East South Central)

Wilson Dam: Setting the Stage

Wilson Dam Setting the Stage Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, July 26, 2017
1. Wilson Dam Setting the Stage Marker
Inscription.  With the U.S. entrenched in World War I, President Woodrow Wilson called for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build nitrate plants at Muscle Shoals to produce explosives for the war effort—and a hydroelectric dam to power them both. Construction began on Wilson Dam in 1918, and immediately the region began to see its benefits. Wilson Dams’ reservoir curtailed local flooding and tamed the previously impassable Shoals for the first time.

When the war ended, so did the need for a large supply of munitions, and the plants stopped production. Seeing a golden opportunity, auto tycoon Henry Ford eagerly tried to purchase the facilities at Muscle Shoals, seeking to use their cheap electricity in his goal to turn Muscle Shoals into a “Detroit of the South.” But George Norris, a Nebraska senator, believed that the dam and its adjacent nitrate facilities could serve a greater purpose for the people of the Tennessee Valley.

Norris argued that the Valley’s three major problems—persistent flooding, a lack of electric power and depleted soil due to poor farming practices—could all be addressed by building
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more dams like Wilson and converting its nitrate facilities to produce fertilizer. While the plan stalled in Congress, the extended debate eventually caused Ford to withdraw his proposal for Muscle Shoals. Soon, however, the Norris plan for the region caught the eye of a very important ally and would ultimately become the catalyst for the revitalization of the Tennessee Valley.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Charity & Public WorkIndustry & CommerceWar, World IWaterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #28 Woodrow Wilson series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1918.
Location. 34° 47.595′ N, 87° 37.582′ W. Marker is in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in Colbert County. Marker can be reached from Reservation Road, one mile east of Alabama Route 133, on the left when traveling east. Marker is located TVA's Visitor Center Kiosk. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Muscle Shoals AL 35661, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Natural and Cultural Preservation/Protecting Resources (here, next to this marker); TVA: A History of Progress and Innovation / A Valley of Hardships (here, next to this marker); Building a New Future (here, next to this marker); TVA Goes to War (here, next
Wilson Dam Setting the Stage Marker Kiosk image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Sandra Hughes, July 26, 2017
2. Wilson Dam Setting the Stage Marker Kiosk
to this marker); TVA: Our Enduring Mission/Powering Prosperity (a few steps from this marker); Wilson Dam: Cornerstone of the TVA System (a few steps from this marker); Explore the River (a few steps from this marker); Gulls Glorious Gulls (a few steps from this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Muscle Shoals.
Credits. This page was last revised on February 9, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 27, 2017, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. This page has been viewed 355 times since then and 7 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on July 27, 2017, by Sandra Hughes Tidwell of Killen, Alabama, USA. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.

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Feb. 25, 2024