Bringing Power to the People
"THE WIZARD" CHANGES THE WORLD |
is hard to imagine that someone with only three months of school
could become one of the greatest inventors in history, but Thomas
Alva Edison's inventions changed the world. As the public learned
about amazing devices like the phonograph, moving pictures, and
the dictaphone, Edison became known as the "Wizard of Menlo Park."
Many of Edison's inventions
found new uses for electricity. Scientists had experimented with
electricity for years, but ordinary people had little use for this
kind of power. When the scientists in Edison's lab showed off the
first electric light bulb in 1879, it sparked dramatic changes in
American life and business. America was about to become wired.
BRIGHT LIGHTS OF THE CITY
The first people
to see the benefits of electrical technology lived in large cities.
and poles could be run easily and cheaply in areas where houses
were close together. By 1930 nearly 70 percent of all city dwellers were
hooked up. On the other hand, private power companies were slow
to bring power to rural areas they didn't think would make them
money. In 1930 only 10 percent of farm families had access to electricity.
It was clear that rural Americans were not sharing in the benefits
of the electric age. It would take the efforts of a new president
for rural power to become a reality.
A "POWER"FUL PRESIDENT
In 1932 Franklin
Delano Roosevelt ran for office promising a "New Deal" for the
American people suffering from the effects of the Great
Depression. One of these promises was to bring electric power
to rural people. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA)
was created in 1935 to fulfill this promise. The REA helped organize
farmer-owned electric "cooperatives" to bring electricity to farms.
With the help of government loans and by selling "shares" in the
cooperative, money was raised to buy supplies and hire workers to
set up the lines and poles.
THE ELECTRIC FARMER |
The use of electricity
on farms increased rapidly after 1935. This success was largely
due to education efforts that showed the benefits of electricity
to farm families. Magazines like the "Electric
Farmer" published articles with hints about using the new power
for farmwork and housework. Dairy farmers learned how electric milking
machines would increase the speed of their work. Farm wives learned
how electric stoves, washers, and water heaters could improve their
home. Electric pumps also made indoor plumbing a reality for farm
CHANGES ON THE FARM|
Ruth Peterson grew
up on a farm in Lakeville, Minn., just 20 miles south of Minneapolis.
She turned 14 the year that her family's farm received electricity
in 1936. The changes were exciting for the teenager who had spent
many of her days doing chores that could now be done more easily
with electricity. She'd no longer have to run down the hill to get
water for drinking and cleaning. Electric lights replaced smoky
kerosene lamps. When she helped her mother cook, it would be with
an electric stove, not the woodburning oven that overheated the
kitchen in the summer and required cold trips to the wood pile in
the winter. Instead of keeping food cold with ice cut from local
rivers, electric refrigerators could store food safely for longer
periods of time. Ruth's family could now consider buying some of
the new electrical
appliances they saw in the Sears catalog. Her friends who lived
in the city had these conveniences already. The REA helped rural
Minnesotans "catch up."
Another benefit of electricity for rural
areas was easier access to communication. The
radio was a source of news and information for farmers. Mary
Ann Kronemann of Fergus Falls recalls their first radio.
"We purchased a small wooden radio, an 'Emerson," ... I will never
forget the first news I heard on that radio. Our electricity was
turned on the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died. ... [I was] excited
about having electricity on our farm, but saddened by the loss
of the President who put it here."
President Roosevelt's support of rural electrification connected
American farmers to the technological advances of the 20th century.
By 1955 almost every farm in the United States received electric
power. In just 20 years the REA helped close the "electricity
gap" between cities and farms and improved the lives of millions