1938 and Electric Power

The year 1938 held an important technological advance for rural America, especially rural Wisconsin. In her Homestead family history, aunt Clara Cook describes it this way: “In 1938, the Wisconsin Power Cooperative had an easement on land to the area to install pole lines which gave all the farmers the benefit of electric power” (page 38). And that included Emil Borreson’s Fitch Coulee farm.

Only when I was glancing through a book about Wisconsin’s historical markers along roadways throughout the state did I realize that the Badger State was at the forefront of this rural electrification change, and that Trempealeau County was at the cutting edge within the state.

Three miles north of Chippewa Falls, there’s a historical marker along Highway 124 noting the “Nation’s First Cooperative Generating Station.”

On Sunday, May 2, 1937, the Wisconsin Power Cooperative was formed by an assembly of farmers for the purpose of developing a generating and transmission facility for low-cost electrical service to the rural areas of eight counties. REA loans financed the new organization, and on March 14, 1938, the first transmission began to two of the eight counties, Trempealeau and Buffalo, with the other six counties online by the end of the year. As Clara described, electric power would have arrived in Fitch Coulee that year.

As the ensuing years brought changes, this Wisconsin Power Cooperative eventually was merged into the current Dairyland Power, and the historic original 1938 plant was retired and dismantled in 1975.

I find it fascinating that Emil’s farm was part of this bit of history. Not only was it within one of the two counties first served by this rural electrification effort, but a key to success was the cooperative model, that is, the farmers themselves – real grassroots action – got the ball rolling. Such local or area initiative was not new in Pigeon Falls which had a history of cooperative ventures (like the Pigeon Falls Cooperative Creamery) – but that may be a blog posting for another day.

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