Everything listed under: history

  • Meet the Mascot: Willie Wiredhand

    Not many workers are still on the job when they turn 67, but Willie Wiredhand isn’t your ordinary employee. Willie is the long-time mascot of America’s rural Electric Cooperatives, and he’s been working hard for us since 1950. To celebrate Willie’s service, we’re going to look back at his birth, his life, and some highlights of his time with our national, state and local Cooperatives over the last 67 years. 

    1950: A Mascot is Born
    The nation's first Electric Cooperatives were established in 1936: the same year that the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) began offering rural Electric Cooperative loans. In just a short few years, there were dozens of rural Cooperatives in Missouri and hundreds of us across the United States. By the 1950s, our Cooperatives were networked together through the well-established National Rural Electric Association (NRECA).

    NRECA decided that Cooperatives needed a mascot: someone to be the face of rural electricity. In 1950, Willie Wiredhand was created by freelance artist Andrew “Drew” McLay to fill that role. He was born on October 30th, 1950, and by 1951 he was selected by NRECA’s membership to be the official mascot of Cooperatives nationwide.

    A New Symbol of Cooperative Culture
    Everything about Willie was symbolic of rural electricity. He was small and wiry; a hard-working, friendly icon with a big, determined smile. One magazine story describes Willie as, “the friendly and inspirational golden boy who symbolizes dependable, local, consumer-owned electricity (source).”

    His bottom and legs were an electrical plug, and his body was made of wires. His head was a light socket, and his nose was a push button. Even Willie’s name was symbolic — a confident nod to Cooperative history.

    NRECA says Willie was given the last name “Wiredhand” because the electricity that was brought to rural America by Cooperatives in the 1930s and 1940s was “the never-tiring, always available hired hand to help the nation’s farmers.”


    Image Credit: Horry Electric Cooperative, Inc.

    Willie Stayed Busy in the 1950s
    Willie’s work ethic didn’t disappoint: He quickly became a household name. His face appeared on lightbulbs, he represented Member-Owners in Washington, D.C., and he even stood on stage with Senator John F. Kennedy.

    The Willie Wiredhand incandescent lightbulb was created in a partnership between NRECA and the Sylvania Electric Products Lighting Division. The bulbs were etched with Willie’s image and packed in cardboard sleeves that had a special Willie design. They were then sold by Cooperatives and given away at 4-H events, state fairs, and other local demonstrations (source).

    Willie’s work in the didn’t stop there. He dressed up as a Colonial Minuteman for a campaign called “Minutemen for Rural Electrification” that leveraged volunteers to engage with lawmakers on legislation that impacted rural Cooperatives. Volunteers wore the “Minutemen for Rural Electrification” lapel pin bearing Willie’s Minuteman image.


    Photo Credit: Wisconsin REC News via ElectricConsumer.org

    That same campaign put Willie on stage in 1959 with then Senator John F. Kennedy at an NRECA gathering in Washington, D.C. As Senator Kennedy spoke, a large banner of Willie the Minuteman stood towering behind him.

    Willie Wiredhand from the 1960s to Today
    During the 1960s and 70s, Willie promoted electric heat in rural homes, and he was featured in two comic books: Cousin Johnny Discovers Power in Rural America and It’s Annual Meeting Time for the Davis Family.” 


    Photo Credit: Electric Consumer

    In 1974, the Morgan County REMC (now South Central Indiana REMC) in Indiana even produced a Willie Wiredhand Cookbook. Unfortunately, though, by the end of the 1970s, many spokes-characters — Willie included — waned in public popularity. For the rest of the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, Willie was seen less frequently in Cooperative marketing and publications.

    By the mid-1980s, though, Baby Boomers were ready to bring back the spokes-characters they remembered from childhood. Willie gradually regained traction with Cooperatives, and by the early 2000s, his presence was strong again.


    Photo Credit: Willie Wiredhand Facebook Page

    Red Hot Willie hot sauces, which promoted Electric Cooperatives in Arkansas, used Willie’s image, and for several years Willie got his very own Christmas ornaments. He was even made into a bobblehead doll! The dolls, which stood 7.5” tall, were created by NRECA. They sold out so quickly that they’re now a collector’s item.

    Today, Electric Cooperatives use Willie’s image on marketing materials, on products, and even in safety publications and videos. It’s rumored that Willie will make another big comeback in 2017, so keep an eye out for him here and on other Cooperative publications.

    Learn More About Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives
    Learn more about Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

  • Power Line Safety

    Can you imagine an electrical flash that burns hotter than the surface of the sun? What if we told you that the source of that heat was all around you — and more specifically, right above you?

    Power Line Safety

    Power lines play a crucial role in how your Missouri Electric Cooperatives deliver electricity to you in rural Missouri, but power lines can also be incredibly dangerous. This 2012 video produced by Crawford Electric Cooperative in Bourbon, Missouri, shows exactly what happens when people, animals, or trees make contact with power lines.

    “Electricity is always looking for that path to the ground,” the presenter explains.

    That means that anything that comes in contact with a power line has the potential to become the electricity’s path to the ground. In the examples in the video, you can see that a helium balloon, a metal pole, and a tree each conduct electricity when they come in contact with an overhead power wire.

    Look Up and Live: Steve’s Story

    When humans come in contact with overhead power lines, they can become electricity’s path to the ground, too. The result is a dangerous — but largely avoidable — electric shock.

    Steve, an employee of Crawford Electric Cooperative, was nearly killed when he was shocked by an overhead power line. He talks to an audience of first responders and public works employees, explaining that he never thought electric shock — which left him hospitalized for three months — could happen to him.

    “I spent three months in intensive care and had 19 surgeries. They told me I’d never walk again,” he tells the audience.

    “It was preventable,” he says. “I really was the guy who said, ‘I’m only going to be there for a minute, and it won’t happen to me.’”

    Power lines are a critical part of our infrastructure for delivering power to you, our rural Missouri Member-Owners. But power lines can also be dangerous. Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives urge you to, “look up and live,” before doing construction work, cleaning a pool, or trimming trees on your property.

    Awareness of the location of power lines on your property, when combined with using best safety practices, will help prevent you from causing the kind of electrical fires, disruptions, and shocks shown in Crawford Electric’s video.

    About Crawford Electric Cooperative

    Incorporated in 1940, Crawford Electric is a not-for-profit member-owned electric cooperative that provides energy services to residential, agricultural and commercial accounts in parts of six east-central Missouri counties. Crawford has more than 60 employees and serves more than 30,000 Missourians through almost 20,000 meters. Crawford’s physical plant consists of more than 3,300 miles of distribution line located within Crawford, Franklin, Washington, Gasconade, Jefferson and Dent counties. The system also includes the city of Bourbon. Crawford is the 15th largest of Missouri’s distribution cooperatives in terms of numbers of meters served as well as miles of line energized (source).

    You can visit Crawford Electric’s website, and the Cooperative is also on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

    Learn more about Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

  • Just How Old Are Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives?

    Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives have a long and proud history. Just how old are Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives? Many of them date back to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and to the establishment of the Rural Electrification Act (REA). At least five of our own Cooperatives were among the first 100 Cooperatives formed in America after the REA began.

    The Rural Electrification Act (REA)

    Congress authorized the REA in 1936 as part of the New Deal to help bring electricity to rural areas for the first time in U.S. history. Back then, 90 percent of urban families and businesses had access to electric power, but only about 10 percent of rural families and businesses did. The REA helped close that gap by offering loans to rural Electric Cooperatives to help them extend electric infrastructure to farms.


    Missouri farmers quickly took advantage of the REA. Together, they pooled their resources ($5 each, which was a huge amount of money during the Great Depression) and applied for REA loans. Those Cooperatives ran the first power lines in rural Missouri, and they are the same Cooperatives that still serve you today.

    Missouri’s First Electric Cooperatives

    There are more than forty Cooperatives in Missouri now, and several were established in 1936 — the same year the REA began offering loans. Callaway Electric Cooperative, which serves Callaway and southern Montgomery Counties, was one of Missouri’s first Cooperatives.

    “The Cooperative,” says its website, “began at a time when nearby privately owned utilities would not serve rural areas, and it continues to grow and serve those areas with great pride today (source).”

    Callaway wasn’t the only Cooperative formed as soon as REA funds were made available to rural communities. Boone Electric Cooperative, Howard Electric Cooperative, Intercounty Electric Cooperative, Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative, and Ralls County Electric Cooperative were all established in 1936.

    By the end of that same year, “nearly 100 electric cooperatives in 26 states had been formed (source),” says Tri-County Electric Cooperative. Only 26 states established Cooperatives in that first year, and not only was Missouri one of them — we established five of the nearly 100 different Cooperatives that existed in that very first year across the entire United States.

    Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives Today

    When Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives were first established, Member-Owners did much of the physical labor involved with running lines and powering communities and farms.

    “In the early years of the Cooperative,” says Ralls County Electric Cooperative, “members were actively involved in bringing electricity to the countryside. Today, professional crews clear the right-of-ways, build electric lines, and maintain a highly efficient electrical system (source).”

    Today, Missouri’s 47 Cooperatives manage the business and the labor of electric power, allowing you — our Member-Owners — to enjoy reliable electricity at an affordable price. Together, your 47 Cooperatives power more than 700,000 homes, businesses, and institutions in our state.

    Learn More About Your Cooperative

    Most of your Missouri Electric Cooperatives have an “About Us” or a “History” page that tells the story of its history and its growth. Many even include the names of the individuals who founded it. To learn more about your Cooperative’s history, you find it’s website listed on the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives’ “Our Co-Ops” page.

    Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives are non-profit power suppliers owned by their members. Each Cooperative is governed by a board of directors that is elected from its membership. Learn more about Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives, and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

  • The Rural Electrification Act (REA) Turns 80 this Year

    This year is the 80th birthday of the Rural Electrification Act (REA). The REA, which was enacted in 1936 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of the New Deal, helped bring electricity to some of Missouri’s rural areas for the first time. In fact, if it weren’t for the REA, Missouri might not have the power infrastructure we have today.


    Bridging an Economic Divide in the 1930s

    When the REA was established, there was a massive divide between the access that urban and rural communities had to electric power. In urban communities an estimated 90 percent of people had electricity, but in rural communities that number was closer to 10 percent.

    In 1937, Odette Keun, author of A Foreigner Looks at TVA said, “About ninety per cent of the citizens on farms, say the statistics, do not have the lighting and the simple comforts that have become a commonplace in most middle-class dwellings in urban communities (source).”

    The REA helped bridge that divide by establishing electric cooperatives, setting up a rural power distribution network, and even bringing electricians to rural farms to install wiring, outlets, and light fixtures.

     Bringing Electricity to Rural Missouri

    Your Missouri Electric Cooperative probably wouldn’t exist today without the REA. In just its first three years, the agency helped establish 417 American electric cooperatives, including the Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative in northeastern Missouri (source).

    The first 155 miles of the Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative’s line was made possible by REA loans in 1936 and 1937 (source). That line helped connect farms in Palmyra, Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls, and Shelby Counties to electric power for the very first time.

    The REA didn’t just help establish Cooperatives, though: It also brought electricians into rural areas to help wire homes and barns. Wikipedia explains that “REA crews traveled through the American countryside, bringing teams of electricians along with them. The electricians added wiring to houses and barns to utilize the newly available power provided by the line crews (source).”

    Those electricians helped ensure that homes had ceiling-mounted light fixtures, light switches, and wall outlets. Since electric appliances weren’t common at that time, most homes didn’t need more than one outlet per room.

    Electricity Boosted Local Economies

    Once rural farms were wired for electricity, rural farmers wanted to be able to light their homes, keep their food refrigerated, and make everyday chores like cooking and laundry easier for their families. Purchasing light bulbs, light fixtures, and appliances helped boost business for local stores.

    The New Deal Network explains that, “When famers did receive electric power their purchase of electric appliances helped to increase sales for local merchants (source).” From electric ranges to refrigerators, electric appliances didn’t just help local businesses, they also helped improve quality of life for rural Missourians.

    The REA is part of the history and heritage of your Missouri Electric Cooperatives. We’re proud to have helped bring electricity to rural Missouri — improving the rural quality of life and boosting rural economies — since the 1930s. Our dedication to bringing reliable, affordable energy to you continues today.

     You can learn more about your local Cooperatives and how we work to provide safe, efficient energy to rural Missouri by following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram

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