Traditionally, farmers and small town residents have always found ways to work together for their common good. This spirit of cooperation lives on today, through legally incorporated enterprises known as cooperatives which provide us the one-time luxury, but now modern-day necessity of “central station” electric service.
Not that long ago, rural citizens knew their work and play had to be done during daylight hours. If their cooking, farming, cleaning, and chores wasn’t finished by sundown, they were faced with the awkward task of working by candlelight, using oil-fed lanterns. Machinery was hand-operated. Heating was done by lighting a fire, and air conditioning was only a fantasy. Electricity was being enjoyed only by those within city limits large enough to support the infrastructure needed to supply power to their homes and businesses. Most rural people could not secure electric service from existing electrical distributors at a price they could afford.
In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration, which made federal funds available to provide electric power to those in outlying areas; which consisted largely of our nation’s farmers. Power companies showed little interest at first, forcing leaders of farm organizations to form nonprofit electric cooperatives. Member-owned, business-managed, taxpaying electric cooperatives began to grow in number across the country.
In 1935, only 4 percent of Tennessee’s rural population had central station service. Today, thanks to 23 rural electric systems reflecting the determination of rural and small town residents to provide themselves with a service so long and so unjustly denied, more than 99 percent of the Volunteer State’s rural residents receive central station electric service. The small remainder could have electricity within hours, or at most a few days, after application for service from the rural system serving their area.