Co-Op Leads the Way to Rural Electrification

An unidentified highway lined with electric poles. Image from 1910-1920 and now in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History

An unidentified highway lined with electric poles. Image from 1910-1920 and now in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History

On April 17, 1937, the first switch was thrown at the Eason-Tarboro substation, jumpstarting rural electrification efforts in North Carolina.

As part his New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in May 1935 with the dual goals of helping rural areas get electricity and providing work to the unemployed. High startup costs and anticipated low returns on investments, made existing electric companies unenthusiastic about entering rural markets, so communities turned to cooperative ventures instead.

North Carolina’s first co-op–the Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corporation, or EMC-EMC, was formed by citizens in the northeastern part of the state. After receiving a $32,000 loan in June 1936, work quickly began to bring electricity to the region. The switch was thrown on April 17 at the Eason-Tarboro substation and electricity began to flow. The plant is still in operation today.

Before the EMC-EMC, North Carolinians had long been interested in rural electrification. The state actually established its own Rural Electrification Authority in April 1935, one month before Roosevelt’s REA. North Carolina’s progressive attitude toward rural electrification helped to make the EMC-EMC more than a flash in the pan.

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