This page was created May 22, 2005

Of all the changes in the rural home; electricity has got to be the one that made the most difference. Electricity was the basis for most all of the other changes in their lives.

The most noticeable and appreciated change was that most all of the chores previously accomplished by muscle power could now be done by machines powered by electricity. This not only saved much labor, it also saved time as many of these chores were very time consuming.

Electricity came slowly to most rural communities. There were long stretches of line needed between isolated homes and as this was the "first" electricity, not many families were using it at that time; this made electric line construction not very financially feasible for private companies-- not to mention the private citizens. During the 1930's when rural economy was severely depressed, not many families felt that they could afford the costs of installation or the monthly recurring bills (some of these were just $2.00 per month).

Many of the Extension offices conducted programs and classes to inform the families of the savings involved in the long run; or just exactly what could be accomplished with how much money. This sometimes convinced the families that perhaps they "could" experiment with electricity.

Electric lighting, of course was the first immediate result of rural electrification. Homes with one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and one power outlet per room were designated as "newly electrified homes".Although some families did realize that this "new" electricity would save time and labor; they knew to utilize it that there were appliances to be purchased to run on electricity that were in themselves "budget stretchers".

Even though this "new" electricity would eventually make everyone's life easier in most areas- the initial experimentations with electricity were a far cry from what we have today. There were several attempts made by rural families to generate electicity if they lived in areas not serviced yet by electrical power lines. These attempts produced items that in some instances required their own form of "more labor" to keep them running. In some instances, there were limitations on just when and how much electricity could be used.

Homemade Electricity

One attempt at homemade electricity was with a wind charger. It had five or six large car batteries; the wind would charge those batteries up and in turn supply electricity. One very windy nights, there was unlimited electricity

Drawback: On nights/days without any wind, you had no electricity. But people marveled when it was on.

Delco Plant

A delco plant as can be seen in the photo was a "plant" that had large batteries (look to the right) and an engine that was run with gasoline and the motor charged those batteries. In most instances, there were 12 batteries. If you wanted to use all the house lights for an extended time, the plant had to run at the same time to keep the batteries from running down.

In the best of times, the delco plant didn't provide enough electricity to run a lot of things; however, many had a radio or light that operated well. If you were ironing or using the washer, you had to keep the plant running constantly also. Many people during the depression who owned a Delco plant, simply didn't have the money to replace the batteries and so they were VERY careful of just how much they used them.

REMC (Rural Electric Membership Corporation)

REMC was financially aided by the government in making electricity generally available in rural areas.

Even with the government assistance, only the fortunate in most communities had the resources for the electric service. In Indiana, one of the first towns to get electricity was Wabash, Indiana. But even then, most people just couldn't afford it. In those years, the companies wanted a certain number of persons to sign up for the electricity before they would install the lines. The average cost to a family in 1938 was $2.50, but most people felt that for that large amount of money, they could probably get along with it.

If you were one of the unfortunate ones to live "just beyond" the end of the electric lines; the cost fell to you alone to pay for the lines and everything going into the house. One can imagine the dispair that must have been felt by seeing someone just a few homes away with the electricity and knowing that financially you just couldn't afford it.

Many older persons remember their first Christmas with electricity and what a difference the lights made on the tree.

There were other people however, that although they could see the difference that electricity made in their lives; chose to reserve the use of it for the barns where after all their money making business was. REMC was created to reduce the amount of accidents and increase the amount of time that farmers in rural areas could continue to work- therefore supporting their families and not requiring government assistance.

First Appliances

It takes little imagination to come to the idea of just what was the first items of purchase from the woman viewpoint.

There is a very close tie between a washer and the iron. Both of these were seen as equally essential, especially in those days of very large families.

Of course, the coming of electricity also carried its share of setbacks. Once people had the electricity and they had figured out methods of obtaining the appliances bought "on time"-- the War came along and items such as washers or refrigerators requiring the motors were not made for a while (till the War was over). So many of these people who "had" the electricity, really didn't get to enjoy the benefits from it.

Forerunners and Drawbacks

Before electricity came to the rural areas, people used other sources for lighting. However, these of course came with their own set of drawbacks.

Kerosene/ Coal Oil Lamps-- Some people had one for each room and others carried them from room to room. The light they put forth was minimal and many persons no doubt developed eye trouble later from reading under such poor lighting. In addition, the two major complaints against the kerosene lamps was the horrendous smell that they put out as well as the necessity to clean them all the time. There was also the chance of fires if the lamp overturned accidentally.

Ray-O Lamps-- The Ray-O lamps had their own little chimney and supplied a much better light then the kerosene version without the odor.

Gasoline Lamps-- These came with mantles and they needed to be pumped up with an air pump before using. Their light was amazing; but the mantles were very fragile once initially burned. If the mantles broke, you had no light. Advertisements at the time for the gasoline lamps stated "they are brighter then using 20 old style oil lamps".


  • When electricity came, it was wonderful. The biggest thrill was in not having to wash the kerosene globes anymore.

  • When we first had electricity, I didn't know the current was hot.. I picked up a fixture to hold it up to the wall and it was terrible. I have been careful with electricity ever since.

  • Well, mother said, "We'll keep the lamps, because you never know. This thing of plugging stuff in will never work".

  • The electricity was so much safer. You didn't have to worry about Daddy working in the barn late at night. It is really amazing that there weren't more fires.

  • It was funny, we got electricity when it came out but grandmother didn't think she needed it. She did enjoy coming over and using ours though. Eventually she visited some friends one evening (who didn't have electricity) and came back complaining "I just don't understand these people who are too stubborn to get electricity!"

  • A washer was the first thing I bought when electricity came in. I had it before they finished with the lines.

  • The first time our town got electricity, all the stores were lighted up. It made a big difference.

  • I remember sitting around in the dark waiting for Daddy to come in from the barn, then we turned on the one light in the ceiling. We couldn't afford to use it very much.

  • When we had the Delco plant, we usually saved our electric power up to listen to the radio in the evenings.

  • Using an iron with electricity was so much easier. I still don't like to iron, but.....

  • Lord, I remember when we got electrified! We bought a stove and refrigerator. Of course in those days you couldn't buy all those things at one time.

  • When ironing, you had the hot stove behind you and the hot pad in your hand to hold the iron. Everything around you was hot.

  • I remember, I bought a toaster, a sandwich toaster. Boy, I thought I had really become modern that day.


    Debbie Jennings

    Website Coordinator