Back in Time: Rural Electrification

The theme of this month’s Luddite feature is rural electrification.

The Rural Electrification Administration was established to bring electricity to isolated rural areas not serviced by private utilities. Political officials realized the injustices that people of rural areas experienced by being deprived of a higher quality of life with electricity, not unlike today’s funding through the USDA to bring the internet to the rural communities.

In the above photo, taken on May 11, 1935, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt (center) signs the Rural Electrification Act with Representative John E. Rankin (left) and Senator George W. Norris (right).

George Norris was from McCook, Nebraska, and he also sponsored the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933. Norris’s role in rural electrification was influential in the state of Nebraska because the state has never had any privately owned electrical utilities – only public power.

The REA administered the loans for purposes of electrification and providing telephone services to rural areas. A few years following its creation, the program was reorganized as a division of the USDA.

In this photo, we see the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) erecting telephone lines in a rural area. (Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.)

The above photo is from the FDR Library photo collection, and shows a lineman working on a pole as a farmer watches. (Truck says: Arcadia, Wisconsin)

This July 1942 photo (above) shows a Rural Electrification Administration cooperative lineman at work in Hayti.

The above is a photograph of a young girl listening to the radio during the Great Depression. (Photo date: between 1938 and 1945)

What kind of similar programs could be in the cards for the future?

Besides the ongoing upgrades to rural internet availability, I’d suspect that at some point, farms – especially in the more sparsely populated regions – will go off the grid. Programs which offer solar and wind generators (admittedly these already exist to some degree) with fuel cell or battery storage that is either local or local-regional just might be the best subsidized farm program priorities of the future.

It is also worth noting that it is the farmers of this nation who are renting their land to host the big wind generator “farms” and cell phone towers, as well as the new power lines required by these large “wind farms” – often to the detriment of their former farming operations.

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