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Photographic Print from New York production of Macbeth, 1936

[Detail] Photographic Print from New York production of Macbeth, 1936

4) Tennessee Valley Authority

Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 to maintain the forty-one thousand-square mile area that constitutes the Tennessee River system. In addition to managing navigation, flood control, and national defense, the TVA was charged with the production and distribution of hydroelectric power throughout the area. Private power companies competed with the TVA for physical and financial control of the nation's electricity market. In addition to building power lines before the TVA, private industry took legal action to stop federal funding of power plants.

Arthur Arent’s 1937 play for the Living Newspaper theatre unit, Power, chronicled the history of electricity from its discovery to the TVA’s legal disputes. The 1937 production notebook from Seattle’s Metropolitan Theatre includes a synopsis of the play, a brief chronology of legislation, and a publicity memo describing the TVA as “the first of the series of the government’s program of hydro-electric projects that if carried out will blanket the entire United States and, according to advocates, make a vivid reality of the New Deal’s plan to provide a ‘more abundant life.’”

On January 3, 1938, the United States Supreme Court defended the TVA when it ruled that government assistance of municipal power plants was constitutional. The Living Newspaper was committed to keeping its productions topical and Arthur Arent added a revision to the conclusion of Power that reflected that ruling. Publicity memos from February 3, 1938 and March 24, 1938 describe how Arent planned to incorporate new developments into the final scene of his play.

  • Why were private companies threatened by the TVA?
  • Who would benefit from government-sponsored hydroelectric projects?
  • How did Power depict the TVA and the Supreme Court?
  • Why was it important for the Living Newspaper to update Power?