north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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     President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in May 1935. Part of the New Deal legislation, the REA was designed to help rural areas obtain electricity and to provide work to the unemployed. With high startup costs and anticipated low returns on investments, existing electric companies were not enthusiastic about entering rural markets, so communities entered into cooperative ventures. North Carolina’s first such co-op was formed by citizens in Edgecombe and Martin Counties. The corporation that would later be called the Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corporation (EMC-EMC) petitioned the REA for a $32,000 loan in June 1936. It was approved three months later and work began to bring electricity into the counties. The switch was thrown on April 17, 1937, at the Eason-Tarboro substation, a plant still in operation today.

     North Carolinians had long been interested in rural electrification. E. C. Branson, sociologist at the University of North Carolina, emphasized the “importance of electricity as a potential force in the social and economic rehabilitation of agriculture.” Machines would bring an end to some of the drudgery of farm work and radios would help the citizens to feel like they were a part of the greater community, the world. In 1919 the few power companies which operated in rural areas were charging higher rates to make up for the lack of volume. Branson began to encourage the creation of rural cooperatives. He publicized the work of the cooperative of Cleveland County farmers, formed in 1921 with $100 per home subscription. The farmers worked to erect their own poles, extend the lines, and wire their homes. By 1925 the cooperative operated ninety miles of line and supplied 485 homes with electricity.

     Ultimately Branson’s plans for rural electrical cooperatives failed, due to lack of funding, technical expertise of the farmers, and professional management of the co-ops. North Carolinians remained interested in the prospects for rural electrification and continued to work on state initiatives even as the federal government began to parley the issue. In fact, North Carolina established its own Rural Electrification Authority (NCREA) in April 1935, one month before Roosevelt’s REA. North Carolina’s progressive attitude toward rural electrification helped to make the EMC-EMC more than a flash in the pan.


References:
D. Clayton Brown, Electricity for Rural America: The Fight for the REA (1980)
D. Clayton Brown, “North Carolina Rural Electrification: Precedent of the Rural Electrification Authority,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 1982): 109-124
S. H. Hobbs, “Brief History of Rural Electrification in North Carolina,” Presidential Address, Historical Society of North Carolina (1963)
Michael E. C. Gery, “They called it ‘Rural Electrification,’” Carolina Country (July 2005)

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