Wessels Living History Farm - York Nebraska Farming in the 1940s
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REA Promise Fulfilled

  REA lines  
The REA, Rural Electrification Administration, began in the 1930s, but it took time to build power lines scores of miles into rural areas. So, when young men from farms went into military service, most of them left behind a farmhouse with no electric lights or appliances, and most often, no indoor bathroom as well. Throughout the 1940s, the REA continued to build the lines. When the soldiers returned, many – but not all – found that electricity had revolutionized life on the farm.

These are the facts:

  • In 1930, only 13 percent of farms had electricity.
  • By the early 1940s, only 33 percent of farms had electricity.
  • Locally in York, Nebraska, the Perennial Public Power District had strung nearly 250 miles of electric line to more than 500 customers by September 1945.
  • By 1950 nearly all of Nebraska farms were "hooked up," and electricity replaced kerosene lanterns in homes and barns.

Farm life dramatically improved with power for lights, refrigeration, appliances, and farm equipment. Electricity powered labor-saving machines. Electric water pumps powered many irrigation pumps on the farm and cisterns for running water in kitchens and indoor bathrooms. Video InterviewThe pent-up demand for home appliances exploded after World War II, about the same time lights came on in homes across rural America.

And, of course, you needed power for new inventions, like television.

Kelly Holthus (left) and his family lived only one mile out of town, but they were "the last house on the line" and were not hooked up to electricity until 1950. He says his life dramatically improved. "We really became part of Diena Schmidt Interviewthe world – at least, part of the state – after that. Before that, we were just our own little community there."

Diena Schmidt (right) remembers that having a refrigerator meant she no longer had to go to the "cave" – a cool room dug down into the ground – to get butter and other perishables. "That cave, we didn't like anyhow because there were salamanders down there."


Don Geery InterviewDon Geery was working for the power district after the war and realized how important it was to get folks hooked up. His crew was trying to hook up one farmer on Christmas Eve when they found out the farm wife had arthritis. "We were going to connect that farmer up. We didn't care how long it took," Don says. "When we energized them, we walked in. And she had, I don't know how many electric blankets wrapped around her. And she was crying. Her children were crying. And we were crying."

REA made a huge difference in the lives of rural families.

Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. A partial bibliography of sources is here.


 

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