Rural Electrification

Here on August 5, 1936, the State's first rural electric pole was placed by the Northwestern Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Incorporated on April 30, 1936, this was Pennsylvania's first such cooperative. By 1941, thirteen more had been formed in this State.

During the Great Depression, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created to help struggling farmers. The REA funded local cooperative associations with the goal of supplying power to rural areas. The first director of the REA, Engineer Morris Llewellyn Cooke, released a revolutionary report that called for large power plants to be created to distribute power to the region in 1927. Governor at the time, Gifford Pinchot, made it his top priority to electrify farms in Pennsylvania at an affordable cost. To enact a plan to build these power systems, Pinchot introduced new bills seven times. But every bill was voted down, due to power company-backed lobbyists in the state government.  By the beginning of 1936, no progress had been made toward this dream of electrification; over 75% of the state’s farms did not have any electricity. 

Cooke approved the first REA grant to the Steamburg Electric Cooperative Association (later Northwestern Rural Electric Cooperative Association). The first pole was then placed on the Stainbrook farm in Meadville on August 5, 1936,  with Cooke as a speaker. However, the farmer’s struggle for electricity still continued as new problems arose. Farms and volunteers constructed the first 124 miles of lines in the Crawford County area. The REA planned to pay for electricity from local private companies. These companies either wanted to charge exorbitant fees or not provide electricity altogether. This stalemate was resolved when REA Deputy Administrator John M. Carmody threatened the power companies by telling them the REA was going to build a new coal power plant nearby. Not wanting to compete with a government entity, the power companies agreed to provide power to the lines. This was done at wholesale prices to provide affordable electricity to the farms and their families. 

On May 17, 1937, power was first sent through the lines. For the first time, farmers enjoyed the comforts of electricity in their very own homes. They now could use electric lights, clothing irons, milking machines, feed grinders, milk coolers, mowers, silage cutters, brooders, and other devices that reduced the physical workload of farm work and substantially improved the amount of work that could be done in a day.