When the lights came on
As late as the mid-1930s, nine out of 10 rural homes were without electric service. Farmers milked cows by hand in the dim light of a kerosene lantern, and families relied on the wood range and washboard for cooking and cleaning.
The unavailability of electricity in rural areas kept their economies entirely and exclusively dependent on agriculture. Factories and businesses, of course, preferred to locate in cities where electric power was easily acquired. For many years, power companies ignored the rural areas of the nation.
Rural Electrification Administration
The idea of providing federal assistance to accomplish rural electrification gained ground rapidly when President Roosevelt took office in 1933. On May 11, 1935, Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 7037 establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). It was not until a year later that the Rural Electrification Act was passed and the lending program that became the REA got underway.
Within months, it became evident to REA officials that established investor-owned utilities were not interested in using federal loan funds to serve sparsely populated rural areas. But loan applications from farmer-based cooperatives poured in, and REA soon realized electric cooperatives would be the entities to make rural electrification a reality.
In 1937, the REA drafted the Electric Cooperative Corporation Act, a model law that states could adopt to enable the formation and operation of not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives.
Becoming Pioneer Electric Cooperative
In December 1937, the Butler County Electric Membership Corporation was formed to serve rural Butler County. Serving without pay, its trustees went from house to house encouraging their friends and neighbors to join the Corporation.
In March 1938, REA allocated $250,000 to the construction of the system and enlarged the project’s scope to include portions of Lowndes, Wilcox and Dallas Counties. The first line was energized on March 6, 1939.
To better reflect the areas served, the Corporation’s name was changed to Pioneer Electric Cooperative at the July 1940 annual meeting.
Read more about it
Interested in learning more about Pioneer Electric Cooperative’s history? Request a complimentary copy of our history book, When the Lights Came On.