National Geographic : 2010 Jul
EDITOR'S NOTE POSTERS: "LIGHT, " "WASH DAY," "FARM WORK," AND "RUNNING WATER" BY LESTER BEALL, 1937; ART © LESTER BEALL, JR., TRUST/LICENSED BY VAGA, NY; LESTER BEALL COLLECTION, GRAPHIC DESIGN ARCHIVES, CARY GRAPHIC ARTS COLLECTION, RIT "WASH DAY" AND "FARM WORK" My grandfather must have been thinking ahead. As a young man in the 1920s, George C. Johns built a house in Vernonia, Oregon. The town was headquarters for the Oregon-American Lumber Company, then one of the largest lumber firms in the Pacific Northwest. There wasn't much of an electrical grid in those days. Smaller towns (like Vernonia) near industrial centers were more likely to have electrical access than those that were more isolated. Rural folks had it even harder. Only 10 percent of American farms were electrified. Private electric companies had little interest in extending power lines to the countryside. All that changed in 1935 when Franklin Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administra- tion. The REA provided low-interest loans to farmers, who formed their own cooperative groups to bring in lines and manage the power. By the end of the 1940s some 90 percent of farms had electricity. The grid was finally in place. The drudgery of life before electrification is a rapidly vanishing memory, as Joel Achenbach makes clear in this month's story about the grid. Though perhaps you can remember---for a price. The other day I saw a real estate listing for a rural Oregon property near where I grew up. The log A-frame had one bedroom, two baths, and antique furniture that conveyed with purchase. Its big selling point seemed to be a promise of luxury living off the grid. It was priced at more than a million and a half dollars. I wonder what my grandfather would have thought of that? Posters helped publicize the benefits of the Rural Electrification Administration in 1937.