Franklin Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA)
under authority of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. At the time,
only 10 percent of the nation’s farms had electricity. The situation was much
better in the Northwest, where 47.5 percent of the farms in Washington, 27.5
percent of the farms in Oregon, and 29.8 percent in Idaho had electricity. In
Montana, only 5.5 percent of the farms had electricity.
rural electrification program proved popular and, in 1936, Congress established
a 10-year loan program for utilities to extend power lines to rural customers,
but many existing utilities remained reluctant to do so because of the
cost — it was more expensive per customer to build and maintain lines to rural
customers than to those who lived in cities and towns. In response to the
utilities’ reluctance, electric cooperatives formed to take advantage of the
the Northwest, the concepts of electrification provided by rural customer
cooperatives wasn’t new. Electric cooperatives had been formed as early as
1914. Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built largely to help
electrify rural areas of the Northwest, where rural residents were hungry for
power. By 1940, thanks largely to the establishment of the REA, the completion
of Bonneville Dam in 1938, and the creation of rural electric utilities, 59
percent of the farms in Oregon had electricity; in Washington, the figure was
71 percent. The same thing happened in the other states.
World War II, a shortage of materials forced a halt to construction of rural
electric lines, but after the war construction boomed as poles and wires became
available. Also, in the 1944 Pace Act, Congress reduced the interest rate on
REA loans to 2 percent and extended the payoff period to 35 years. In the five
years following World War II, more than 2 million consumers took advantage of
the loans and connected to rural electricity systems.
the early 1970s nearly all farms in the United States had electricity. The REA
was abolished in 1994; its functions were assumed by the Rural Utilities
Service, which today is part of USDA Rural Development, a division of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.