Farm Progress

In the thirties, the WPA put many people to work with federal funds, including writers – one of the more controversial inclusions. The result was a number of state guides like The WPA Guide to Wisconsin. First published in 1941, the new edition reprinted in 2006 provides a good look at the state through the eyes of folks coming through years of depression and drought.

I was paging through the “Agriculture” section of this Wisconsin guide when I came across a page (104) with general statistics on farm life in the thirties (exact years often not provided). Since we’ve received a picture of Emil as a progressive, I thought this might be a good way to test it. So here goes.

Automobiles: nine-tenths of Wisconsin farms had them; Emil bought his first car, a Model T, in 1917.

Tractors: one-fourth of the state’s farms had them; Emil had one since he bought his Fordson in 1923.

Trucks: one-third of the farms owned one; Emil had one early on as described by Sid, but I’m not sure when it was acquired.

Milking machines: only one-eighth of the farm had these; Emil used them probably beginning shortly after 1916 (with the Delco system) and certainly before 1923 (when Sid was born).

Silos: Wisconsin had more than any other state; Emil erected two silos about 1916.

Electric lights: only one-fourth of the farms had these; Emil and Gina had some electric power beginning with the Delco system in 1916 (or shortly thereafter) and REA electricity from 1938 and on. By 1942, according to another source, near half of U.S. farms had electricity.

Telephones: three-fifth of the homes had these; we know Emil and Gina had one because they would take messages for the teacher or students at the Fitch Coulee School (year unknown).

Running water: one-sixth of rural homes had this in the kitchen in the thirties, one-third in the barns; in 1915-1916 from the windmill atop the hill, Emil and Gina had a pump and cistern “to pipe water to the farm buildings” (Homestead, 35). I wonder if this included the house.

Washing machines: one-half the farms had one; I don’t know about Emil and Gina, but with a large family, they sure needed one.

Furnaces: one-third of Wisconsin farms had one; again I don’t know when Emil and Gina installed their first furnace.

A review of this list actually confirms Emil’s desire to be a leader in having recent improvements for farming and for living.

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