Electricity in 1918. No electricity in 1930. How can that be?
Updated: Jun 18, 2022
My forthcoming novel is set in the year 1930. The main character lives on a farm in rural Georgia in the southeastern United States with no electricity. Nobody in rural Georgia has electricity in 1930 even though folks in Atlanta and other large Georgia cities have had electric power for years. In fact, Hannah Myers, the main character in my book “The Time Capsule,” lived in a couple of rooming houses in Atlanta in 1918 which both had electricity. So why did city folks have electricity back in 1918 (and earlier) while their country cousins were left in the dark even as late as 1940s? It boils down to money.
The big utilities couldn’t make a profit stringing power lines out into the countryside where homes were widely dispersed. The US is a capitalist country after all. The goal of companies – even power companies – is to make money. So it was tough beans for rural residents. Until President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the New Deal program during the Great Depression, which included the Rural Electrification Administration created in 1935. The REA allowed counties to form electric co-operatives. Those co-ops could borrow money to pay for electric power equipment, including installation of power poles and power lines.
After the REA’s creation, counties began forming co-ops and bringing electricity to farmers and other rural residents. Where my mother grew up in northeast Georgia finally got electric power in 1939. Some counties didn’t get electricity until well into the 1940s. Which is amazing to think about now.
Ironic that while writing “The Time Capsule” set in 1918 I could describe settings with electricity and now, as I write my upcoming novel set in 1930, I have to describe life before lightbulbs and electric conveniences. Just one example of how making assumptions can trip you up when you’re writing historical fiction.
By the way, the picture above is my grandmother, second from right, with co-workers in front of the general store where she worked before marrying my grandfather in the early 1920s.
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