Thursday, August 27, 2015

How the New Deal electrified the nation

("Electric Production and Direction," an oil painting by William Karp, created while he participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

With all the political books, articles, and claims about how the New Deal didn't work (see, e.g., "McConnell vs. the New Deal," Politico, February 6, 2009, complete with misleading unemployment statistics), it's unsurprising that America has largely forgotten, disregarded, and ignored how the New Deal electrified the nation. But consider the following:

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

WPA workers (often called "lazy good-for-nothings" by their fellow citizens) put up 3,358 miles of new electric power lines - enough power line to extend from Baltimore, Maryland to Fairbanks, Alaska. They also participated in 237 projects to build, repair, or improve electric power plants. (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 132) 

The Public Works Administration (PWA): 

The PWA helped fund large hydro-electric power projects like the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams, and also helped fund somewhat smaller electric generation plants all across the country. PWA funds also electrified railroads between New York and Washington, DC, thereby reducing travel time. (America Builds: A Record of PWA, 1939, pp. 118-124 and 189)

(The description for this photo reads, "Diesel engines drive generators in the Culpepper, Virginia Municipal Power Plant. This plant was constructed by PWA." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.) 

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA):

For three-quarters of a century, TVA has provided affordable electric power for millions of Americans in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The New Deal's TVA has been so successful and popular that even Republicans have protected it from privatization (see, e.g., "Obama's Proposal to Sell TVA Blasted by Republicans," Associated Press, Huffington Post, April 16, 2013). 

Rural Electrification Administration (REA):

Beginning in the 1930s, the REA provided low-interest loans to rural Americans--usually through locally formed "co-ops"--to create electric power plants, to erect power lines, and to purchase household items like electric ovens, washing machines, and farm equipment. The Riverland Energy Cooperative in Wisconsin, created by the merger of the 1930s-era Buffalo Electric Cooperative and Trempealeau Electric Cooperative, explains the benefit of the New Deal's REA:

"As late as the mid-1930s, nine out of 10 rural homes were without electric service. The farmer milked his cows by hand in the dim light of a kerosene lantern. His wife was a slave to the wood range and washboard...For many years, power companies ignored the rural areas of the nation. The idea of providing federal assistance to accomplish rural electrification gained ground rapidly when President Roosevelt took office in 1933...the Rural Electrification Act was passed, and the lending program that became the REA got underway...Within four years following the close of the war, the number of rural electric systems in operation doubled, the number of consumers connected more than tripled, and the miles of energized line grew more than five-fold. By 1953, more than 90 percent of U.S. farms had electricity. Today about 99 percent of the nation’s farms have electric service. Most rural electrification is the product of locally owned rural electric cooperatives that got their start by borrowing funds from REA to build lines and provide service on a not-for-profit basis" ("Our History," Riverland Energy Cooperative).

(With funding from the REA, the Trempealeau Electric Cooperative brought electric power to Wisconsin farmers. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

If anyone tells you that the New Deal didn't work...walk away from them and learn the historical facts instead. Go to your library, go to your state archives, find reliable sources on the Internet, whatever. Turn away from the deception & misinformation and examine the historical record with your own eyes. What you find will enlighten & amaze you. What your relatives and ancestors did has never been paralleled.

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