Before There Were Lights: The Story of Electricity in the U.S.
For thousands of years, people all over the world have been fascinated by lightning. Some people must have wondered how to put that kind of power to practical use. But it wasn't until the 18th century that the path to the everyday use of electrical power began to take shape.
|Ben Franklin proved that lightning was a form of electricity.|
Maybe you have heard about the famous kite experiment by American Founding Father and inventor Benjamin Franklin. In 1752, to prove that lightning was electrical, he flew a kite during a thunderstorm.
He tied a metal key onto the string and, as he suspected it would, electricity from the storm clouds flowed down the wet string, shocking him. Franklin was extremely lucky not to have been seriously hurt during this experiment, but he was excited to have proved his idea.
Throughout the next hundred years, many inventors and scientists tried and failed to find a way to use electricity to make light. In 1879, the American inventor, Thomas Edison, was finally able to produce a reliable, long-lasting electric light bulb in his laboratory.
By the end of the 1880s, a number of U.S. cities had small electric generating stations based on Edison's designs. But each station was able to power only a few city blocks.
Although most Americans living in larger towns and cities had electricity by 1930, only 10 percent who lived on farms and in rural areas had electric power. At this time, power companies were all privately owned and in business to make money. These companies argued that it would be too expensive to string miles of electric lines to farms. They also thought farmers were too poor to pay for electric service.
|Workmen string lines to bring TVA electricity to Valley farmers. (Photo courtesy of the New Deal Network)|
President Franklin Roosevelt believed strongly that America?s farming areas should have the same access to electricity as cities. In 1935 the Rural Electric Administration was created to bring electricity to rural areas like the Tennessee Valley.
By 1939 the percentage of rural homes with electricity had risen to 25 percent. The Tennessee Valley Authority also set up the Electric Home and Farm Authority to help farmers buy electric appliances like stoves and washing machines. Farm families of that time found these helpful electric appliances made their lives much easier.
Today, Americans' standard of living has risen as nearly everyone has electricity at home, school, and work. Read more about life in the Valley before electricity and how TVA power changed things for the better.