Our electricity went off for some unknown reason a few months ago. More than anything, it was more of an inconvenience changing my erstwhile plans to give the house a good vacuuming from top to bottom. Thankfully, the power outage came at a time when we didn’t need to worry about freezing to death or feel very uncomfortable on a hot, humid day.
But this temporary lack of juice had us wondering just how we would survive if a serious EMP strike were to occur.
And that led us to ponder how we got to the point where our mere existence has become so dependent on electricity – especially when we take pride in being ‘independent’ farmers, capable of taking care of our own needs.
The answer to that question is to take a look back in history. A nearby town from where I live began producing its own electricity back in 1880’s, although most rural areas didn’t have electricity until the 1940’s.
This meant ‘city’ women had access to electricity, which ran all the modern gadgets of that era – meanwhile, country women were still making candles and cleaning kerosene lamp shades.
The men living in town had the luxury of knowing what time it was from a plugged-in clock, rather than having to remember to wind up the clock each week.
Can you imagine what disadvantage farm boys had when trying to find a wife? Who would leave the luxury of an electric vacuum cleaner and indoor plumbing?
Something needed to be done. This was a problem, and it was up to some enterprising American inventor to solve it. That person was Charles F. Kettering, who in 1916 founded the Domestic Engineering Company and introduced the Delco-Light Electric Plant that changed rural America. No longer were farm homes and barns in the dark (pardon the pun).
His successful electric plant brought drastic changes to farms with its “flameless lighting” and “running water”, plus a host of other things we take for granted that make our lives so much easier. And it was very success. His sales exceeded 27,000 units in the first year alone. With over fifty percent of the United States population living in rural areas, he had a very anxious and ready market.
The Delco-Light plant was not without competition. In the late 1920’s there were over 150 companies in the business. There were a lot of rural businesses, churches and homes that were more than happy to do away with gas lighting systems.
An article by H.J. Metcalf in the Iowa Homestead tells that on June 20, 1920 the Des Moines branch of a large farm electric plant manufacturing company installed from 175 to 275 light plants per county in west central Iowa.
One farmer converted his whole farm to electricity. It was his way of combatting the labor shortage, yet he wanted to increase productivity. With the used of the electric plant his young sons could milk the dozen cows daily and operate the cream separator with their father’s assistance. His wife sure liked the new washing machine. Farmers also liked electricity because it reduced the fire danger.
Business was doing well for the electric light plants, and new ideas were being improved on every day in the research labs.
Then on May 11, 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 7037 creating the Rural Electrification Administration.
So REA came to the country, providing very dependable service. Electrical light plants in each home were soon considered to be old-fashioned and so very un-modern.
My farm home built in 1936 still bears the markings of having its own electric plant. Sadly the plant itself disappeared a long time ago, but the three solid cement platforms designed to hold batteries and the electricity-making machine will be forever in my basement, causing me to ponder this invention of a century ago.