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.