In the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 7037 on May 11, 1935 establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), a temporary agency tasked with deciding how to fund rural electric systems. The following year, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, giving statutory power to the new agency.
It didn’t take them long to get to work. In 1937, the REA noted the most spectacular increase of rural electrification in the history of the United States had been achieved. Thanks to this national commitment, more than 1.2 million farms had electric service and the gap between urban and rural standards of living was closing.
For the first time in history, thousands of rural communities had hope of securing electricity. And like no other time in history, the economic landscape of rural areas changed.
A 1954 Rural Lines newsletter noted that “Three years ago, not one acre of rice was being grown in the area served by the rural electric system [the Mississippi Delta]…Today more than 19,000 acres are planted…” Rural electrification provided irrigation capability, which increased farm earnings and helped rural economies grow.
Having grown up in Arkansas, I know that rural electric co-operatives still serve communities across the country today. North Plains Electric Cooperative, located in Perryton, Texas, and serving the Northeast corner of the Texas panhandle, the co-op has “been lighting the Texas Plains since 1944.” North Plains carries on its tradition of providing service to their members through their “Always On” technology, smart grid investments and focus on environmentally friendly electricity.
As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Rural Electrification Administration, we recognize electric cooperatives like North Plains. They helped rural areas turn the U.S. into the breadbasket of the world. When the nation made this commitment to rural America, the whole country gained and helped America become the world leader.
I am proud to be part of that legacy in the Rural Utility Service and its predecessor, the REA. And equally proud to be part of USDA’s continued commitment to improving the lives of rural Americans.