March 03, 2009
President Franklin D. Roosevelt hired Arthur Morgan (seated in car, 2nd from right) in 1933 as the first Chairman of the TVA Board, Morgan was famous for two things that might seem to have nothing to do with each other: building efficient dams for flood control, and believing in the perfectibility of humankind. In TVA he saw his chance to bring the two together.*
We Morgan's have some pretty interesting people, in our lineage. From Sir Thomas Morgan, knighted in 1658, who was awarded the original Morgan coat of arms, to John Hunt Morgan (Morgan's Raiders,) Daniel Boone (whose mother was Sarah Morgan,) and other Welsh dignitaries. We had royalty in our lineage, really. Just ask my wife who is the authority on confirming these awesome connections.
We've traced back 100's of years, and together, we truly do love discovering our past. But, you only need to go back to 1878 to find, Arthur E. Morgan (1878-1975). Arthur Morgan was a thinker, a scientist, hydraulic engineer, ethical leader, and was the key figure behind the Tennessee Valley Authority, a project he was called on by Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. He was the de-facto master in hydraulic flood control at that time. He was also president of Antioch College from 1920 to 1936. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and raised in northern Minnesota.
Arthur Morgan was a collectivist, with many social ideas. It was intriguing to me because today, there seems to be a hard line between liberals and conservatives. The word socialism is a taboo word today. It swims in the same pool as Marxism and Fascism, of which I understand as other shades of Communism.
To understand his thinking, we have to put ourselves in the context of life between 1878 and 1940. Liberalism was very different and socialism was not yet stamped with failure. Arthur found many social ideas appealing because of his strict, ethical principles. In 1933, he was astonished when President Roosevelt invited him to the White House and offered him the chairmanship of TVA. “I like your vision,” said FDR. Arthur Morgan dreamt of the perfect society, a utopia. Yeah, what we've all read about in school. He looked at his appointment to the TVA as a way to bring his visions together.
Morgan was famous for two things that might seem to have nothing to do with each other: building efficient dams for flood control, and believing in the perfectibility of humankind.
Reading his diaries and several other books I found on him, he was a genuine individual with good intentions. He believed in hard work and our responsibility to contribute to society. He was good friends with Thomas Edison, Charles Kettering, and he was at the "first flight" launch in Dayton with the Orville brothers. As you can see, his peers offered a lot to measure up to.
Morgan's TVA boasted low accident rates, high worker morale, and ingenious solutions to tame the wild Tennessee River.** However, he butted heads with David Lilienthal, another young director on the committee. David suggested to distribute the power produced by TVA would be better to let a network of local public utilities handle the job. Arthur argued that the TVA enter into an agreement with the existing private utilities to distribute electricity. It seems Arthur he just didn't like David and considered him a political opportunist. Arthur went as far to suggest to the president David not be re-appointed. The fighting went on for quite some time, and when it finally spilled into public view, Arther was asked to substantiate his claims, and either could not, or would not. This is another story in itself.
In the end, President Roosevelt suggested that Arthur resign, and when he refused, he was ultimately fired by FDR for insubordination. He was 60 at this time and most thought he was at the end of his career. But, he returned to Yellow Springs, and lived for nearly four more decades, and maintained a strong interest in Antioch College. He served as a trustee for many years and as a perennial lecturer. In retirement he founded Community Service, Inc., to promote recognition and development of the "small community." The small, self-sufficient community was the vision and desire of Arthur Morgan. He published a string of thoughtful books on topics ranging from the ideas of Sir Thomas More to dam-building by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His last work, “The Making of TVA,” was released in 1974, just a year before his death at age 97. In it he documented the creation of the dream he had done so much to shape, but had seen fulfilled by by others.
I'm blown away by the accomplishments of Arthur E. Morgan and I've not even touched on them all. The point of this blog was to lay out a collection of interesting facts I have been dying to document as well as make a contribution to our Morgan genealogy. Additionally, it has again shown me the importance of while we don't always see things eye-to-eye today (and it's harder than ever today as life has become so complicated,) we should first seek to understand... and then be understood. I look back at a successful man by any standards we use today but I see some flawed visions that may not have been apparent by the standard of thinking during the time. Still, it's something to live up to and it reminds me that the role we play now is likely only the start of something bigger when we are gone. I hope we leave a legacy that our children will be proud of.
Books I've read and have referenced for this article:
Finding His World, the childhood diaries assembled by Lucy Griscom Morgan
My World, Arthur E. Morgan
FDR's Utopian, Arthur Morgan of the TVA (still reading)
Arthur Morgan Remembered
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