The city of Muscle Shoals began with the construction of U.S. Nitrate Plant No.2 and Wilson Dam for defense purposes in 1918. The name came from the great stretch of rapids in the Tennessee River that contained rocky shoals and an abundance of mussels. (Muscle is an archaic spelling of mussel.) In 1921, automobile manufacture Henry Ford became interested in buying the idle nitrate plant and the unfinished dam. He offered the government $5 million for the properties and promised to "build a city 75 miles long and employ one million people." His offer was eventually rejected by the Congress. Ford's involvement let to a tremendous real estate boom. A.L. Howell and C.T. Graves and other developers bought nearby cotton fields and laid out subdivisions, complete with streets, sidewalks, fireplugs and street lights.
On April 24, 1923, Muscle Shoals City was incorporated with a population of 727. George McBride became the first mayor. The Howell and Graves Junior High School opened in 1927.
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After a visit to Muscle Shoals by President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. Congress passed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. On May 22, 1933, President Roosevelt signed legislation providing for the development of the entire valley, as proposed by Senator George Norris of Nebraska. The hydro-electric power generated by Wilson Dam induced Reynolds Metals, Union Carbine, Diamond Shamrock, Ford Motor and other companies to locate here. These industries and the relocation of U.S. Highway 43 and 72 led to rapid growth in the 1950s. In the 1960s, music legend Rick Hall brought FAME Recording studio to Muscle Shoals from Florence. Famous bands and singers (Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Liza Minnelli, the Osmonds, Mac Davis, Duane Allman and many others come to record. Muscle Shoals soon became known as "The Hit Recording Capitol of the World."