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Book Reviews Developed for the Service of Alabama: The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company, 1906–2006. By Leah Rawls Atkins. Birmingham: Alabama Power Company, 2006. xxvii, 675 pp. $37.50. ISBN 0-9786753-0-4. Available from the Alabama Power Service Organization, 600 North 18th Street, Birmingham, AL, 35291. In 2002 the Alabama Power Company commissioned a book to commemorate its centennial anniversary. It arranged for Leah Atkins, professor emerita of history at Auburn University and former director of the Auburn University Center for the Arts and Humanities, to write the history. Already a proven author of works on the South and Birmingham, she was well qualified and poised for such an undertaking. After four years of labor, with much assistance from the company, she produced her work. It is an impressive product, rich in narrative and context, and, while it lauds the subject, the Alabama Power Company is contextualized as a factor in the South’s growth and development. For students of southern economic development and general business history, this work will be valuable, and for general readers of Alabama history it will be enjoyable. In 1906 the Alabama Power Company was incorporated by consolidating hydroelectric investments on the Tennessee and Tallapoosa rivers made by Frank Washburn and Charles Baker. Attorney Thomas W. Martin became interested in waterpower when he worked as a young lawyer in the office of the state attorney general. He handled much of the legal work for a group of investors, particularly James Mitchell, seeking to develop the water power resources of Alabama. The company first established headquarters in Montgomery, described as an antebellum city of the Old South, but the eager entrepreneurs moved operations to Birmingham, where the sweat and toil of the New South was underway. Martin took over leadership of the firm in 1920 and served as the company commander for forty years, his name becoming synonymous with Alabama Power. In 1925 the company moved its offices into a new artdeco building, crowned with a statue of Electra, which became a symbol of the company and a landmark of the city. Students of rural electrification will find interesting a discussion of the controversy over the federal dam at Muscle Shoals, including the attempt T H E A L A B A M A R E V I E W 286 by Henry Ford to purchase the dam for a pittance. Martin defended government ownership and opposed the sale, but later had strong differences with the Tennessee Valley Authority when it took over jurisdiction of the dam. By 1940, as the world mobilized for war, Martin and the TVA had overcome their differences. Atkins furnishes fresh details and the company’s perspective on the Muscle Shoals and TVA battles. After World War II, the Alabama Power Company supplied electricity to homes, businesses, and industrial plants springing up around the state. It experienced setbacks and went through a particularly painful period in the late 1970s, when it had a poor image with the general public and clashed with Gov. George Wallace. Again the firm weathered the storm and returned to sound financial footing in the 1980s. It expanded its responsibilities, as did much of corporate America, and sought to provide more than abundant and reliable electricity. It cooperated with the state government in attracting new manufacturers to Alabama such as an up-scale Mercedes-Benz plant. It went into the 1990s like many large corporations, facing new environmental, workforce diversity, and technologies implementation regulations. When the company reached the new millennium it had become a force for industrial development as well as a provider of electricity. Atkins relied heavily on company records and interviews with many of the officers and employees of Alabama Power. Such use of primary sources enabled her to give the work a sense of depth generally not achieved in commissioned works, accompanied by an insider’s view. She never lost sight of the broader context and for this reason the work will be a valuable addition to the history of a public utilities industry, the state of Alabama, and southern economic growth. D. CLAYTON BROWN Texas Christian University Guests Behind the Barbed Wire...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9961
Print ISSN
0002-4341
Pages
pp. 285-286
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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