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 tensionor high voltagepower 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 Americaeven 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.
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About the Author
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
Major Characters xi
Key Dates xxvii
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
Appendix A How to Build a Holding Company Pyramid 223
Appendix B How to Make Dividends Flow Uphill 225
About the Author 283