Norris Dam is a straight concrete gravity-type dam. The dam is 1860 feet (570 m) long and 265 feet (81 m) high. Norris Lake, the largest reservoir on a tributary of the Tennessee River, has 33,840 acres (137 km²) of water surface and 809 miles (1302 km) of shoreline. The dam is equipped with two 50 MW electrical generators.
Hungarian-American architect Roland Wank revised the initial plans from Bureau of Reclamation engineers, and gave the poured-concrete Norris Dam a modernist style, which was controversial and advanced for the era of construction, but the result succeeded in elevating Roland Wank to the position of Chief Architect for TVA from 1933 through 1944.
Construction began on October 1, 1933. The dam was completed in March 1936, constructed at a cost of $36 million. Approximately 2,900 families were relocated from reservoir lands during the construction. The town of Norris, Tennessee was initially built as a planned community to house the workers involved in the construction of this dam.
The building of Norris Dam and the changes it brought to the region inspired films, books, stage plays, and songs. Folk songs from the construction period express enthusiasm for the benefits that the dam project brought to the region.
Although Norris was the first dam built by TVA, it is not the oldest dam owned and operated by the agency. TVA subsequently purchased the assets of the former Tennessee Electric Power Company, including some dams which had been built prior to Norris Dam.
The reservoir is often relatively clear, especially for one of its age, primarily due to the rocky nature of most of the tributary streambeds; this makes Norris Lake a prime destination for fishermen. Portions of this lake are unusually deep for a man-made impoundment of its kind due to the height of the dam and the relative depth and steepness of the valleys of some impounded tributary streams.