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LGM Film Club, Part 25: More Power to the American Farmer

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This 1946 General Electric film is an attempt to get rural communities to invest in building or expanding their electric supply infrastructure. I’m not going to lie–this is pretty boring. Like 21 minutes of 2020 time frame boring.

Let me wake up from that.

OK, it might not be a great film, but there is value in it as a document. It took a long time for rural America to be electrified. In 1928 or so, if you were in urban America, your life might not be all that different than today. You’d have electric light, movies, a radio, electric washing machine, running water, etc., at least if you were anything close to middle class. If you were on a farm, it might as well be 1850. Women labored away day after day hauling water, heating it, and doing laundry by hand, just among many, many other chores. The electric companies had no financial interest to hook these remote and often poor farms up to the line because they’d never make their money back. So they would require these farms to raise the money themselves. Even when they worked together, it was rare that they succeeded. The New Deal changed that. Lyndon Johnson built his early political career on the issue, having seen his own mother toil away on their dirt farm outside of Johnson City. By 1946, the project of hooking farms up to electricity was well underway.

So a document like this reflects a time when a company such as GE now saw the potential for profit in it and needed to recruit salesman and other middlemen to convince farmers to invest more in electric products. What’s also telling is the consistent reference to the “farm-factory.” This is also a time when farms were really starting to consolidate and grow, with many farmers leaving the land and the average size of the farm growing. So if you could invest in electricity and keep growing, turning your farm into a genuine factory, maybe you could make it. This film doesn’t say this so directly, but that’s where it is going. Of course, many of them would not.

So in the end, this is a useful, if not exactly fun, document on rural America in the immediate post-war period.

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