Howell and Graves

Muscle Shoals, Alabama City of Unlimited Opportunity

Promotional Brochure for Muscle Shoals, Alabama

DESCRIPTION: Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a small city nestled along the Tennessee River, is perhaps best known today for its outsized influence on American music. The iconic "Muscle Shoals Sound," born in the city's legendary recording studios, has left an indelible mark on genres ranging from soul and R&B to rock and country.

But a century ago, Muscle Shoals was the epicenter of a different kind of boom - one fueled by grand industrial ambitions and the promise of a brighter future.

In the 1920s, automotive pioneer Henry Ford set his sights on transforming the sleepy Alabama town into a bustling metropolis to rival Detroit (1). The centerpiece of this vision was the Wilson Dam, a hydroelectric marvel that would provide cheap, abundant power to fuel the growth of industry.

Sensing an opportunity, New York City developers Howell and Graves began heavily promoting Muscle Shoals as the "City of Unlimited Opportunity." This advertising brochure, circa 1925, with a rare birds-eye view map showcases their grand plans. The map, which stretches from Seven Mile Island to the Wilson Dam, depicts a thriving industrial landscape, with the Tennessee River winding majestically in the background.

At the time, nitrate plants were the region's biggest employers, and the promise of readily available electricity was expected to lure even more manufacturers to the area. Howell and Graves themselves invested heavily in the city's future, constructing the first City Hall, homes, and the Howell and Graves Jr. High School, which still stands today as a Board of Education building.

However, the grand vision for Muscle Shoals was not to be. Much of the infrastructure built by Howell and Graves went unused as the Great Depression stifled the city's growth. The promised industrial boom never materialized, and Muscle Shoals settled into a quieter existence.

Henry Ford, the famous industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company, had a vision in the early 1920s to build a "75-mile city" centered around the Wilson Dam in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The dam, which was left incomplete after World War I, presented an opportunity for Ford to combine his various ideals, including pacifism, new urban design, opposition to the gold standard, and distaste for Wall Street.

Ford offered to lease the dam and nitrate works for 100 years, promising to complete the dam, build another upstream, and convert the nitrate plants to fertilizer production. He proposed using fiat currency backed by the dam's value to fund the project, which gained support from farmers but faced opposition from bankers.

Despite Ford's promotion of the plan, which included a visit to Muscle Shoals with Thomas Edison, the project faced opposition from Senator George Norris, who believed the dam would be better off in public hands. Norris blocked the sale in the Senate, and Ford's dream of a 75-mile city never materialized.

The dam was eventually completed in 1924 and became part of the Tennessee Valley Authority during the New Deal era. Although Ford's vision was never realized, Muscle Shoals is now a small city known for its recording studios and streets named after Ford and other Detroit figures. The story of the proposed 75-mile city remains a fascinating example of Ford's ambitions and the challenges of realizing grand urban design projects.

Kazek, Kelly. "Could Muscle Shoals have been a hub rivaling Detroit? Henry Ford thought so". January 14, 2019.

CREATOR: Howell and Graves



BODY OF WATER: Tennessee River

CONDITION: Good.  Yellowing at portions of the vertical centerfold.

COLORING: Lithographed color.


SIZE: 28 " x 23 "


PRICE: $450


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