High Tension: FDR's Battle to Power America

High Tension: FDR's Battle to Power America

by John A. Riggs
High Tension: FDR's Battle to Power America

High Tension: FDR's Battle to Power America

by John A. Riggs


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The story behind one of the greatest peacetime achievements in US history and a model for today’s ongoing government fight with big tech―Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s crusade to electrify the entire nation.

Ranging from the highest halls of power to the remote corners of rural America, it was an epic battle between powerful industry captains and America’s most politically astute president.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in the depths of the Depression, high tension—or high voltage—power lines had been marching across the country for decades, delivering urban Americans a parade of life-transforming inventions from electric lights and radios to refrigerators and washing machines. But most rural Americans still lived in the punishing pre-electric era, unconnected to the grid, their lives consumed and bodies broken by backbreaking chores.

High Tension is the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s battle against the “Power Trust,” an elaborate Wall Street-controlled web of holding companies, to electrify all of America—even when the corrupt captains of the industry and their cronies (led by a formidable and honest champion, Wendell Willkie, whose role in the battle propelled him to a presidential bid to unseat Roosevelt in 1940) cried that running lines to rural areas would not be profitable and that in a free market there would simply have to be a divide between the electricity haves and have-nots.

FDR knew better. And in this story of shrewd political maneuvering, controversial legislation, New Deal government organizations like the Tennessee Valley Authority, the packing of Federal courts, towering business figures, greedy villains, and the crying needs of farmers and other rural citizens desperate for services critical to their daily lives, John A. Riggs has chronicled democracy’s greatest balancing act of government intervention with private market forces. Here is the tale of how FDR's efforts brought affordable electricity to all Americans, powered the industrial might that won World War II, and established a model for public-private solutions today in areas such as transportation infrastructure, broadband, and health care.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635767322
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 11/17/2020
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,082,272
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

John A. (Jack) Riggs studied history at Swarthmore College but took a lengthy detour into public policy before writing High Tension. Now a Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute, he was at the center of energy policymaking in Washington, DC, for more than thirty years. He taught a graduate seminar in energy policy for five years at the University of Pennsylvania, moderated energy forums at the Aspen Institute, and testified more than a dozen times before Congressional energy committees.

He received a master’s degree in public policy at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and served five years in Vietnam with the Agency for International Development during the war. As Staff Director of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, he participated in all the major energy legislation of the 1980s and early 1990s. From 1993 to 1995 he was Deputy Assistant Secretary and then Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy.

As Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program and as Senior Fellow, Riggs led the renowned Aspen Energy Policy Forum for nineteen years. He has edited or co-edited several Aspen Institute books and reports.

Riggs served on the Swarthmore College Board of Managers for fourteen years, as chair of the board’s Governance Committee, and as president of the college’s Alumni Association. He and his wife live in Washington, DC.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Major Characters xi

Key Dates xxvii

Abbreviations xxxv

Chapter 1 Throwing Down the Gauntlet 1

Chapter 2 The First Wave of Electrification 9

Chapter 3 The Golden Years 31

Chapter 4 The Tide Turns 57

Chapter 5 Creating TVA 87

Chapter 6 Enlarging the Battlefield 111

Chapter 7 Peak Power 135

Chapter 8 Power Loss 163

Chapter 9 Powering the War Effort 191

Epilogue 217

Appendix A How to Build a Holding Company Pyramid 223

Appendix B How to Make Dividends Flow Uphill 225

Acknowledgments 227

Bibliography 229

Notes 255

Index 275

About the Author 283

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