Rural electrical cooperatives brought electricity to area in 1930ís
Electricity has become a staple for our way of life. As society continues to make more and more technological advances, we become increasingly more reliant on the resources that supply our electrical power. In our modern world, it is hard to comprehend a time when access to electrical power did not exist.
Prior to the 1880ís no one had electrical power in their homes and prior to 1935 very few Wisconsin farms had access to electricity. Power companies focused mainly on subsidizing electrical service in cities, as they viewed those areas to be more profitable.
In May of 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was established under the order of President Roosevelt and the ďNew DealĒ. Under the REA, $100,000,000 was made available in loans to help create an electrical transmission system among rural farms.
Farmers organized themselves into cooperatives. The organization appointed local leaders who enrolled customers, collected fees and held meetings. The REA provided the cooperatives with loan funds and assistance in building lines to access electrical power.
In 1936, the Clark County Cooperative was formed to serve 2,078 customers in Clark, Taylor, and Marathon counties along 690 miles of power lines. The Taylor County Cooperative was also organized to serve 899 customers along 233 miles of lines in Clark, Taylor, and Marathon counties.
Farm owners were responsible for installing their own wiring or hiring private contractors to wire their farm home and buildings. The cooperative would then come and install the meter on the memberís farm.
The Ulen Company was hired to install poles, wires, and transformers for the Clark County REA electrification project. The company originally headquartered out of Owen and later moved to Greenwood. At that time, the Clark County project was the largest in the United States.
When the Northern States Power Company refused to offer rates in line with the REA administration, local cooperatives set to work on an REA plant in Chippewa Falls. By the end of March 1938, the plantís diesel engines began generating equipment that supplied power to 1,600 customers.
The plant used $705,000 in funds to build and was designed to eventually provide for 10,000 customers in Taylor and Clark counties.
Duane Horn of the Clark County History Buffs recalls the introduction of electricity in his home on the groupís website, ďIt was August 1940. That spring and summer our folks built our new home. Now we were ready to move from our log home to our new modern one. One day we were in Neillsville attending the Clark County Fair. When we arrived back home, the REA had been out and we had electricity.Ē
The introduction of rural electricity opened a whole new world for area farmers. The electric power helped with farm work, made indoor plumbing a possibility, and made new appliances available to them.
Clark County Cooperative members were required to pay a $400 life membership upon joining. In 1938, members were charged $1.14 per kilowatt hour, with a minimum charge of $3.50. Members were given 10 days to pay their electric bill after which five percent would be added to the bill.
Today, more than 520,000 people are served by rural electric systems in the state of Wisconsin. Cooperatives still remain an important part of the community and now provide additional services, such as: satellite and internet.
Story and graphic by Kris Leonhardt.
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