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20 March 2010 - Happy 75th to Rural Electric Co-ops

It is, indeed, an interesting question, one that is directed toward me occasionally by a young reporter who wants to know. . . "What is the biggest change in technology you have experienced in all the years you have been involved in agriculture?" I realize the answer to that question will depend a great deal on the age of the responder. For me, the answer is immediate and this is my response. . . "The biggest change in technology in my lifetime was the arrival of electricity on the Samuelson dairy farm in Wisconsin; a date I will remember forever, April 11,1948, three years after the end of World War II."

I was fourteen years old and will never forget the Rural Electric Co-op truck pulling into the yard that morning and turning on the electricity. That day we stopped milking our 30 cows by hand and turned the job over to the milking machine that had been installed months before, waiting to go to work. My mother threw away the flat irons that were sitting on top of the wood cook-stove and started ironing clothes with an electric iron. Perishable food went into the waiting refrigerator and I could stand at the bottom of the stairway, flick a switch, and have light in my upstairs bedroom without having to carry a lamp up the steps. I can't imagine a bigger change in my life or in rural America.

Why do I mention this now? Because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the federal program to bring electricity to farms and ranches. It was in May of 1935 that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing the Rural Electrification Administration. R.E.A. Co-operatives sprung up all over the country and at one time there were 900 R.E.A. Co-operatives bringing electric service to rural America, something that would not have happened without that 1935 order by President Roosevelt.

Rural Electric Co-ops are still doing the job, but under a different name. It's no longer the R.E.A., it's now the R.U.S., Rural Utilities Service and they have added telephone and TV service to the menu.

Several administrations have tried to shut down the electric co-ops and turn power transmission over to private companies after all the hard line-building work had been done. Thank God they did not succeed, and I hope they never will, because without those Rural Electric Co-ops and their dedicated hard-working employees rural America would be dark. Any of you who share my "electricity experience" will understand why I consider it to be the biggest technology change and why we should all celebrate the 75th anniversary of R.E.A.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.