“In 1921, automotive tycoon Henry Ford, accompanied by Thomas Edison, came to Muscle Shoals with a vision of transforming this area into a metropolis. ‘I will employ one million workers at Muscle Shoals and I will build a city 75 miles long at Muscle Shoals,’ stated Mr. Ford. The instant rumors of Ford’s plan hit the streets, real estate speculators began buying up land and parceling it out in 25 foot lots and putting in sidewalks and street lights. People from all over the United States bought lots, sight unseen, during this time. Mr. Ford’s offer to buy Wilson Dam for $5 million was turned down by Congress. (The initial cost of the construction of the dam was $46.5 million.) Instead, Congress, under the influence of Senator George Norris of Nebraska, later formed the Tennessee Valley Authority to develop the dam as well as the entire river valley. Senator Norris felt strongly that the public rather than private companies should receive the benefits from the government’s investments in Muscle Shoals. Although Ford’s plans did not turn Muscle Shoals into a huge city, it did lay the foundation for the city of Muscle Shoals.”
Congress missed out on a great opportunity. While the quad-city area (Muscle Shoals-Sheffield-Florence-Tuscumbia) of northwest Alabama is picturesque and a great place to visit and live, it has (mostly) been bypassed by industry, as has much of Alabama, although this is beginning to change. Ford’s venture would have more than paid for the cost of Wilson Dam in jobs, production, and tax revenue. The enterprise would have transformed the South by bringing industrial diversity to a part of the country almost exclusively supported by agriculture.
Muscle Shoals is much more famous, although most people don’t know it, for being a music Mecca. The city was immortalized in song by Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Sweet Home Alabama” with the line “Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers.” It’s hard to believe, if you’ve ever driven through the city, that Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Paul Simon, Traffic, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, and others recorded there. Songs like “Take A Letter Maria,” “High Time We Went,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Respect Yourself,” “Kodachrome,” “Loves Me Like A Rock,” “Land of a 1000 Dances,” “Old Time Rock And Roll,” and “Sailing” were recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. It’s hard to imagine Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones hanging out anywhere in the Quad-City area. The biggest tourist attraction is the home of Helen Keller down the road a piece in Tuscumbia, and it’s not much to see.
Where might the automobile business be today if Henry Ford had had his way? While Detroit has been the automobile capital of the world with its distinctive “Motown (Motor Town) Sound” for nearly a 100 years, the tiny Alabama enclave that missed out on being its southern sister set its mark in the music business as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.” With what’s going on in Detroit at the moment, Alabama’s Quad-Cities just might be better off. In fact, Kingsford charcoal, started by Henry Ford and E.G. Kingsford during the 1920s from Ford Company factory wood scraps left over from manufacturing Model-Ts might outlive its automotive parent.