The TVA was created to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly affected by the Great Depression. TVA was envisioned not only as a provider, but also as a regional economic development agency that would use federal experts and electricity to rapidly modernize the region's economy and society.
Even by Depression standards, the Tennessee Valley was economically dismal in 1933. Thirty percent of the population was affected by malaria, and the average income was only $639 per year, with some families surviving on as little as $100 per year. Much of the land had been farmed too hard for too long, eroding and depleting the soil. Crop yields had fallen along with farm incomes. The best timber had been cut, with another 10% of forests being burnt each year.
TVA was designed to modernize the region, using experts and electricity to combat human and economic problems. TVA developed fertilizers, taught farmers ways to improve crop yields and helped replant forests, control forest fires, and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. The most dramatic change in Valley life came from TVA-generated electricity. Electric lights and modern home appliances made life easier and farms more productive. Electricity also drew industries into the region, providing desperately needed jobs. TVA successfully introduced new agricultural methods into traditional farming communities by blending in and finding local champions.