Rural Electricification Act
Electric cooperatives, including Sumner-Cowley Electric, played a vital role in changing the way rural farmers operated and forever changed rural American homes. Prior to the late 1930s, approximately 90% of rural American homes had no electricity. During this time, farmers did not have access to modern machinery, as private utility companies argued it was too expensive to supply power to these isolated rural farmers. Appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, were commonly found in city homes, but not found in rural America. The absence of electricity in rural areas kept their economies entirely and exclusively dependant on agriculture because businesses and factories preferred to located in cities where electricity was readily available.
Two political figures, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Senator George W. Norris from Nebraska, rose to the challenge of providing electricity to rural farmers. In 1935, President Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration. A year later, Senator Norris worked with Congress to pass the Rural Electrification Act. The REA allowed the federal government to make low-cost loans to groups of farmers (cooperatives), making rural electricity a reality.
Not long after REA was passed, Sumner and Cowley county farmers banded together to plan towards bringing rural electric services to the area. On June 27, 1938, a charter was granted and 22 area farmers signed the articles of incorporation. The State Corporation Commission issued a certificate of convenience, giving Sumner-Cowley Electric Cooperative the right to serve farmers of the area.
Although founded in 1938, most of the construction began in 1939 because farm homes had to first be wired for electricity. Actual construction began on May 1, 1939 with 14 trucks working in two counties. A few weeks later, in front of a crowd of 300 people, the first pole was christened with an old-fashioned kerosene lamp and then put in place and raised.
On August 15, 1939 the power was turned on. Sumner-Cowley Electric began serving 160 customers with 96 miles of line.
The following decades brought about tremendous growth and expansion due to dependence on power and electrical living. A year after first becoming energized, Sumner-Cowley Electric’s membership rose to 402. World War II halted growth from 1941-1945, but immediately following the end of the war, growth resumed. Due to increasing membership, the Cooperative moved to its headquarter building for the second time, to accommodate more personnel and warehouse space.
When the first pole began to provide electric power for farmers, the crowd of 300 who attended the pole rising probably did not foresee the tremendous impact it would have on rural farmers. Rural electricity brought an urban standard of living to rural Americans, including central air-conditioning, electric heat and the use of every household appliance known to modern housewives. Not only did it change domestic life, but rural electricity gave rural farmers the ability to use modern, labor-saving farm machines and equipment. All this came to be because 22 forward-thinking and progressive farmers signed the articles of incorporation to establish the Sumner-Cowley Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Today, Sumner-Cowley Electric and its 14 dedicated employees carry on the spirit of those who sought a better life. Our service area encompasses approximately 2,500 square miles, with approximately 4,300 meters and nearly 2,000 miles of line. Headquartered in Wellington, Sumner-Cowley Electric is one of 27 distribution electric cooperatives proudly serving members in the state of Kansas.