The Journal of Economic History


The Role of Publicly Provided Electricity in Economic Development: The Experience of the Tennessee Valley Authority, 1929–1955

Carl Kitchens

Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Mississippi, 333 Holman Hall, University, MS 38677. E-mail:


I study the impacts of one of the largest regional development projects in American History, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), on a variety of economic outcomes. The TVA has been noted as an example of how to develop a region's water power potential to stimulate growth. In what follows, I show using a county-level panel dataset, that the TVA had little impact on economic growth in the South. I attribute these results to the institutional history of the TVA and the contractual agreements it signed in an effort to expand its service territory.

“…as a pebble dropped in a pond causes ripples to flow outward to the surrounding shores, the influence of TVA'slow rates flows outward to surrounding areas…”

TVA's Influence on Electric Rates 1965


  I would like to thank Jean-Laurent Rosenthal and two anonymous referees for their comments that substantially improved this article. I would also like to thank Price Fishback, Jonah Gelbach, Paul Rhode, Taylor Jaworski, Briggs Depew, Theresa Gutberlet, Todd Sorenson, and Manuela Angelucci, participants at the Southern Economic Association Meetings 2011, and Stanford Institute of Theoretical Economics 2012 for helpful comments. Financial support for this project came from the Economic History Association Travel Grant 2010 and the National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant Number 1022756.