At some point during my adventure to The Shoals with Mr. Billy Reid someone mentioned that the Tennessee Valley Authority was based in the area, which made sense considering the Wilson dam and its lake that we relaxed on.
I remember the TVA from high school history class, though I have to admit I never thought much about it. When I got back to NYC after my trip to Alabama I started to read-up on the subject and I learned a lot. And it wasn’t until recently that I became aware of the role of the TVA during WWII.
The power generated through the TVA hydroelectric system was of strategic importance to the war effort as it supplied Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory during its work on the Manhattan Project. Oak Ridge needed millions of kilowatts of energy for uranium enrichment, and the government needed a way to divert these enormous amounts of power without arousing detection. What’s more interesting to me is the fact that all of this managed to happen in secret. The wartime chairman of the TVA didn’t even learn about the TVA’s role in powering Oak Ridge until 1945. I suppose my interest in the TVA and Oak Ridge was further advanced by my recent viewing of Fat Man and Little Boy starring Paul Newman.
It was during my recent delve into the TVA that I established the connection between the Shoals, the TVA and Office of War Information photographer Alfred Palmer’s amazing photographs of the TVA during its construction in June 1942. These amazing color images have been floating around the Flickr universe for a long time, but they are especially poignant to me when considering my recent trip and the historical context. Palmer’s TVA images are so amazing, I really have a hard time accecpting the fact that they are real. Granted, they are highly staged (as most images of the time were; especially Office of War Information images), but as far as workwear goes these are as good as it gets.