Reading 3: "The Electric Project"
In 1920, less than 2 percent of the nation's farmers had electricity. But on the Minidoka Project, things were different. Reclamation Record and New Reclamation Era were monthly journals published by Reclamation to present stories of the agency's accomplishments. In the Reclamation Record, the agency proudly reprinted an article from the Burley Bulletin, a newspaper published in one of the towns on the Minidoka Project. The article read:
Farming is supposed to be a suntime business that is carried on according to the amount of daylight available. . . . And, of course, it is true that the farmer is dependent to a great extent upon daylight for the completion of his field work.
During the busy season, he must be in the fields at daybreak and must stay there until dark. Before and after these field hours he must feed and water the stock and do a lot of other work at the barn and in the house. Both summer and winter he is pretty likely to do these chores before daylight and after dark. . . . Until the last three or four years the great majority of farm homes still got along with the old kerosene lantern for barn and yard work and with the lamp for the house.
What a difference there is now in the farm homes on the Minidoka Project. Instead of the coal oil lamp lighting just the center of the living room and carried from room to room when light was needed, and cleaned and filled every day, are found handsome electric fixtures. On the living room table is a reading lamp with a shade that softens the bright rays of the electric bulbs, but allows them to reach the farthest corners of the room. Bracket lights on the walls give plenty of extra light whenever it is needed.
In the barn the old lantern is known no more. Electric lamps are strung wherever they will do the most good.
Another Reclamation Record article from the same year provided more detail:
Electricity for lighting purposes is always used wherever service has been obtained. In addition, the farmer, and especially the farmer's wife, are using electricity for a great diversity of purposes. . . . The electric iron is the most popular of all appliances, and the records show that over 75 percent of the rural consumers use the iron. The washing machine is perhaps a second choice and, in spite of their high prices, over one-third of the farmers' wives are washing with electric washing machines. Electric cooking appliances are just beginning to come into popular use on the rural lines. . . . A large increase in the cooking load is expected during the coming year.
Vacuum cleaners, electric incubators and brooders, and many other labor-saving devices are coming into more general use. Considerable energy was used during the past spring in homemade brooders, which were equipped in many cases with a carbon-filament lamp to supply the necessary amount of heat to keep the little chicks warm. Many a farmer now has a motor . . . which drives a pump, cream separator, grindstone, food grinder, and numerous other appliances for labor saving.
Half of the farmers have large yard lights on poles. With all these burning at night it is difficult to tell from a distance where town begins and country ends.
An article in the New Reclamation Era reported that about half of the 2,500 farms on the project had electricity in 1926. By this time, the list of electric appliances had grown:
Many [housewives] also use electric hot plates, grilles, toasters, waffle irons, percolators, curling irons, warming pads, ranges, churns, sewing machines, and house fans.
The star of the "Electric Project" was Rupert's "Electric High School," built in 1914. The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) described its features in a long article entitled "Electric Devices Reign Supreme at the New High School":
Rupert, Idaho, is at the present time decidedly in the limelight because of its new and model "electric high school." This building has the distinction to be the first large building in the world to be heated entirely by electricity. An electric ten-horsepower motor supplies all the power needed for driving the lathes, saws, etc., in the manual training department. An electric water heater supplies hot water for the domestic science rooms. In the domestic science room, each girl of a class of 20 has her individual disk stove. This room is also provided with electric flatirons and will have an electric range and electric equipment for the adjoining cafeteria lunchroom.
The building is supplied with a fine system of electric lights throughout, the auditorium and stage having lights and switchboard control similar to those of the better theaters. This room is also equipped for using a moving picture machine. The lighting, as well as much of the other equipment, has been planned with the view of making this building a "model community center."
The system of schools housed in Rupert's fine school buildings is just as modern as the buildings themselves. The district is a large consolidated district. Modern enclosed school wagons transport to and from school all children outside a reasonable walking distance and within a reasonable driving distance. The high school is an accredited four- year high school. The high school, with eight teachers, has a fine band, orchestra, glee clubs, and athletic teams. When it is remembered that eight years ago this part of the great Snake River valley was a sagebrush desert and that less than four years ago the Rupert school system consisted of part of one building, the transformation is wonderful.
Questions for Reading 3
1) How did farm families on the Minidoka Project use electricity?
2) Why do you think a newspaper in Salt Lake City, Utah, would publish a long article on a high school in Rupert, almost 200 miles away? What about it being "electric" was so interesting?
3) Reclamation reported that project farm families at Minidoka were buying electrical appliances as fast as they could afford them in 1920. Why do you think that might have been the case? Consider how having electric appliances changed a farm wife's life. How would those tasks be completed without electric appliances?
4) In what ways was Rupert's school "electric"? Look around your classroom and see how electricity is used there. What would your classroom be like without electricity?
5) School prepares students for the future. What kind of future did the "electric high school" prepare its students for?