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What Rural Electrification Administration Means To Our Farm Home: 1939


Member, Shelby (Ky.) Rural Electric Cooperative

An Article in Rural Electrification NEWS, March, 1939

Editor’s Note:  The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created on May 11, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the primary goal of promoting rural electricity. The U.S. lagged significantly behind Europe in providing electricity to rural areas due to the unwillingness of power companies to serve farmsteads.

Private electric utilities argued that the government had no right to compete with or regulate private utility companies despite many of these utilities’ having refused to extend their lines to rural areas, claiming lack of profitability. Private power companies set rural rates four times as high as city rates. Under the REA there was no direct government competition to private enterprise. Instead, REA made loans available to local electrification cooperatives, which operated lines and distributed electricity.

In 1939, 288,000 households had their electricity provided by rural electric cooperatives; most of these electric coops had applied for and received loans from REA.

Lineman on a Utility Pole Rural Electrification Administration
Lineman on a Utility Pole
Rural Electrification Administration

THE FIRST benefit we received from the REA service was lights, and aren’t lights grand? My little boy expressed my sentiments when he said, “Mother, I didn’t realize how dark our house was until we got electric lights.” We had been reading by an Aladdin lamp and thought it was good, but it didn’t compare with our I. E. S. reading lamp. Are all of you reading by an I. E. S. lamp? If you are not, get one tomorrow. When you compare how much easier on your eyes an I. E. S. lamp is than an ordinary electric lamp, you will not hesitate, especially when you find they do not cost any more than an ordinary lamp. The I. E. S. lamps are not made by just one company but are lamps approved by the Illuminating Engineering Society.

Child by Radio and Lamp Rural Electrification Administration
Child by Radio and Lamp
Rural Electrification Administration

Recently I read in the Rural Electrification NEWS that the radio was the most popular appliance that had been bought. So, like the rest of the people, we changed our storage-battery radio into an electric radio. This was our next benefit.

Next we bought an electric refrigerator. Of course, next after a refrigerator comes making ice cream in the trays. We changed our washing machine from a machine driven by gasoline to one driven by the electric current as our next improvement. The machine was all right with gasoline, but, my, the noise it made! It is such a blessed relief to do the laundry in peace and quiet. We changed our pump for the pressure tank in our bathroom and water system from a hand pump to an electric pump. I did not buy an electric iron at first, as I do not do my own ironing. I was impressed, when I did, at how much improved irons were since I moved to the country. I can turn my dial on the iron to any fabric I may be ironing and the iron will stay the temperature needed for the fabric until I move the dial. The next benefit we received from the current was our electric stove. We were so anxious for the current that we wired our house many months before the current was turned on, and we wired our kitchen for an electric range.

Woman with Electric Washer Rural Electrification Administration
Woman with Electric Washer
Rural Electrification Administration

If you follow the directions in the cook book given you with your range, that is, use very little water in cooking, use a covered pan as big as your heating unit, and use your “free heat,” you will be surprised at how little electricity you will burn.

Before the current was turned on, when anyone asked me what appliance I wanted most I always said that I wanted a vacuum cleaner. I do not know what kind of a person you are, but I expect that you are a nice, neat person and that when it rains you put on your overshoes on the porch before you go out and take the muddy overshoes off on the porch before you come into the house. We don’t do that way at our house. We rush out when it rains without overshoes, and when we come in we wipe half the mud on the mat at the door and the other half we wipe on my living-room carpet. I have an old-fashioned body Brussells carpet on my living-room floor, and when I swept it I raised as much dust as if I had been sweeping the dusty pike. When I finished I was choking with the dust, the carpet was not clean, and I was in a bad humor. Now with the vacuum cleaner, I can even dust the furniture before I clean the carpet, the carpet gets clean, and I stay in a good humor.

So you see I am thoroughly enjoying the many things that electricity had made possible, and I am enjoying life more because I have more time to spend visiting my friends, studying and reading, and doing the things that make life richer and fuller.

Source: Scearce, Rose Dudley, “What REA Service Means to Our Farm Home,” Rural Electrification NEWS, March, 1939., New Deal Network, (May 31, 2014).

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