Fathers for Life

Working in the interests of the owners of rural electric services 

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Early History of the Tennessee Valley Authority

Lessons for today's rural economy

The Tennessee Valley Authority: Electricity for All

The TVA was pushed through by president Roosevelt as part of his New Deal. 

  • Although nearly 90 percent of urban dwellers had electricity by the 1930s, only ten percent of rural dwellers did. Private utility companies, who supplied electric power to most of the nation's consumers, argued that it was too expensive to string electric lines to isolated rural farmsteads. Anyway, they said, most farmers, were too poor to be able to afford electricity.

  • By 1939 the REA had helped to establish 417 rural electric cooperatives, which served 288,000 households. The actions of the REA encouraged private utilities to electrify the countryside as well. By 1939 rural households with electricity had risen to 25 percent. The enthusiasm that greeted the introduction of electric power can be seen in the remarks of Rose Scearce.

  • To put electricity and electricity-using appliances in every American home and farm is an objective the necessity of which no sane person will dispute. Take the farms. There are about six million five hundred thousand of them in the United States. Thirty million people, out of a population of one hundred and twenty-seven million dwell in them. Now the less I say about the American farms in general, the more wholesome it will be for my temper, for I've been so grossly misinformed with regard to the average living condition of the agricultural classes in this country, by the Americans I met in Europe, that I haven't got over my bitter disappointment yet. (Odette Keun)

The following links will take you to a few pages from which the preceding quotes were taken.  Those pages describe the circumstances prevailing on American farms in the 1930s.  They also describe the political, economical and social conditions that had to be changed and what was done to bring those changes about.

Electricity for All

  1. Rural Electrification
  2. Mr. Carmody: We Want Lights
  3. Rural Refrigeration
  4. Electric Appliances on the Farm
  5. New Products for New Consumers

More on the history of the TVA

Although rural electrification made life on North American farm easier, it did not halt the exodus of the farm population and its migration to urban centres.  That is as much true today as it was in the 1930s and '40s.
   Prices for farm products are as high today as they were then, while costs for all inputs into farm operations increased enormously since then.  That has lately become a primary concern with higher energy costs for farm operations, especially with the cost of electric energy; it rose enormously wherever deregulation of electric utilities took place.
   A few rural customers in relatively small geographic areas are no match to the power of enormously large international investor-owned utility corporations.  Moreover, politicians appear to cater primarily to the wishes of utility corporations and not to the interests of urban or rural families.
   Increasing mechanization of farm operations allowed to hold off the inevitable.  However, that only slowed down the developments; it did not stop them.  The exodus of the farm population in North America continues.  Very few younger farmers take over, and the older farmers are dying off. Already a few years ago the average age of Canadian farmers was 62 years; it is still increasing — a sign of the continuing decay of the rural economy.
   More than half of Canadian farmers need and have major off-farm employment to keep their farms from going under.  Due to the large capital investment required for mechanization and to take advantage of the economy of scale, many farms are now deeply in debt.  A major share of farm returns goes to pay for the interest on ever increasing capital investment and loans to cover operating costs.
   A little remark I read in a newspaper just a few days ago may be the most accurate assessment of the causes of that trend: "Farming is the only business that buys retail and sells wholesale."  That observation is so obviously true that without exception none of the farmers I told about that saw much humour in it. The best anyone could muster was a bitter laugh.

The founding of the Bruderheim Rural Electrification Association

More on the history of Alberta (incl. photos of the Bruderheim Area)

Posted 2004 01 16