A "cooperative" is a form of business that is often overlooked and misunderstood, even by the people affected by cooperatives every day. This type of business is one that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits and benefits of membership as they pool their resources together to meet their common goals. Many organizations you may be familiar with are cooperatives, including Land O'Lakes, C-SPAN, Sunkist, and the Associated Press. Electric cooperatives like Sussex Rural Electric embody these cooperative values of community, member control, and yes, cooperation, providing the essential service of supplying electricity to the communities they belongs to.
The first electric cooperatives were created in 1937 under FDR’s “New Deal” and was intended to be an economic stimulus to the depressed economy of the 1930's. Prior to the New Deal, rural America did not have the benefit of central station electric service. The only way rural residents could get electricity was to pay the investor owned utilities to build the electric system to their home or farm. Most families could not afford to pay for the construction of the electrical system, so rural America did not have central electric service. However, under the New Deal, the Federal Government encouraged rural communities, through a series of loans, to form electric cooperatives for the purpose of creating an affordable electric system to serve their needs. Under the cooperative concept the only requirement necessary to receive electrical service was that you become a member by purchasing a membership certificate for $5.00.
The cooperative concept successfully achieved its main goal of stimulating the economy by bringing electricity to all rural communities. The benefits of electricity led to the sale of appliances and modern farm equipment which paved the way to more productivity and a much better quality of life for everyone living in these rural communities.
Today, there are over 900 electric cooperatives spread across 47 states. These cooperatives power the homes and businesses of 42 million Americans, covering 56% of the nation's landmass. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association provides a link between all these co-ops, allowing them to share resources and strategies for implementing the best service possible.
Below is a collection of historical photos showing the adoption of rural electrification and the rise of electric cooperatives in Sussex County and across the entire nation
This video, "Power and the Land," is a part of a documentary commissioned by the Rural Electrification Administration in 1940, narrated by Walter Cronkite. It focuses on the lives of a farming family in rural Ohio. It displays the struggles and toil of everyday farm life pre-electrification and how this was all changed by the REA.