Muscle Shoals, Alabama

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Muscle Shoals is a city in Colbert County, Alabama, United States. As of 2007, the United States Census Bureau estimated the population of the city to be 12,846.[2] The city is included in The Shoals MSA. It is famous for its contributions to American popular music.



Native Indians first inhabited the lands bordered by the Tennessee River. There is no record of when the name Muscle Shoals was first used for the area. However, there are several theories as to where the name originated. One theory is that at one time there were piles of mussel shells found along the shoals of the Tennessee River. Another theory is that the shape of the river looks like the muscle in a man's arm, hence the name 'Muscle' Shoals. The last theory comes from several booklets that were published before Muscle Shoals incorporated. This theory states: "Muscle Shoals, the Niagara of the South, derives its name from the Indians, who, attempting to navigate upstream, found the task almost impossible because of the strong current." Thus, also, came the word muscle, symbolic of the strength required to "paddle a canoe up the rapids." The Shoals area, including Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, was first known as the Muscle Shoals district.[1]

In the early 1900s, Muscle Shoals was farm land with houses scattered among the cotton fields. In 1918, a year after the United States entered World War I, the building of Wilson Dam began. The United States needed nitrates for ammunition and explosives, prompting President Woodrow Wilson to approve the building of two nitrate plants and a dam to supply needed electricity for those plants. At its peak, the building of Wilson Dam employed more than 18,000 workers, including some from what is now Muscle Shoals. The construction site consisted of 1,700 temporary buildings, 236 permanent buildings, 185 residential units, and 685 miles of electrical cable. There were also 23 mess halls, a school for 850 students, an 85-bed hospital, and 3 barber shops.[1]

In 1921, automotive tycoon Henry Ford, accompanied by Thomas Edison, came to Muscle Shoals with a vision of transforming the area into a metropolis. The instant rumors of Ford’s plan caused a real estate boom, and speculators began buying up land and parceling it out in 25 foot lots. During this time, people from all over the United States bought lots sight unseen. Mr. Ford’s offer to buy Wilson Dam for $5 million was turned down by the United States 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. This plan was made a part of the New Deal. Although Ford’s plans did not materialize, they did lay the foundation for the city of Muscle Shoals.[1]

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