Sparks Fly

Sparks Fly

(Cooperative Connections, Nov. 2019, Vol. 20, No. 7)

While most rural residents were overjoyed by the cooperative approach, it sparked criticism and even sabotage from some politicians, citizens, and private utilities, which prompted a strong REA response. 

Cooperative Critics

Anti-big government politicians used red scare tactics by asserting cooperatives promoted socialist and communist ideologies, while citizens who weren't sold on electricity's necessity also expressed public disapproval. 

(​​​​​​​The New York Times, 2 Dec. 1941)

"I say to you that the Rural Electrification Administration is teaming with Communists, fellow travelers, and bureaucrats who put political theory above the safety of their country."

               -Kansas Representative, Thomas Winter               (​​​​​​​The New York Times, 2 Dec. 1941)

(The Ypsilanti Press​​​​​​​, 22 June 1944)

(Wallaces' Farmer, 16 Nov. 1946)

Because private utilities had an electric monopoly and saw rural cooperatives as a threat, they created a fierce, nationwide anti-cooperative campaign to turn public opinion against them. They also undermined cooperatives by erecting "spite lines," often at night, which limited areas cooperatives could serve. 

"In a number of cases, projects organized under the present act have been seriously handicapped and even destroyed by the 'spite line' activities of private utilities."

-Administrator John Carmody (The New York Times​​​​​​​, 23 May 1937)

 (Tidewater Review, 12 Jan. 1950)

REA Fights Back

The REA countered private utility attacks, political accusations, and rural reluctance through an all-out publicity campaign, which utilized branding in posters, signage, newspapers, films, and events to build support for cooperatives and electrifying the rural frontier.

(Barre Daily Times, 28 Feb. 1941)

 (Beall, Library of Congress, 1937)

(Library of Congress, Aug. 1942)

​​​​​​​(IRECA NewsButler County REC Archives, ​​​​​​​Jan. 1948)

"A pamphlet distributed in advance of showings of Power and the Land." (NARA, 1940)

"Power and the Land​​​​​​​" (Rural Electrification Administration, 1940)

"The forward march of electric cooperatives... is perhaps the most democratic form of business enterprise, one in which the individual finds his greatest gain through cooperation with his neighbors."

-President Franklin Roosevelt, Letter to the NRECA (Congressional Record, 15 Jan. 1943)

The REA's campaign successfully increased public confidence that cooperatives could provide affordable, reliable electric service, which grew membership and improved rural frontier life.