Delanie Tarvin: Malone on the R.E.A.

In “Market Failure in Delivering Electricity to Rural Areas Before 1930”, Laurence J. Malone outlines the historic timeline of the electric industry in relation to rural America. According to Malone, the early market for the electronic industry was almost solely urban. Consequently, “rural regions of the United States were generally without electricity and were denied the commercial progress it brought” (Malone). Practically ignored from providers, rural America fell behind as the standard of living rose in other parts of the country. Malone claims that providers ignored rural America “due to its high network construction costs and the prospect of meager immediate profits,” saying rates were “commonly twice as high as urban rates” in the 1920s (Malone). Malone then explains that the 1920s to 1930s saw the beginnings of rural access to electricity with “over thirty state rural power initiatives” made during this time (Malone). Malone mentions FDR’s insistent promotion of rural electrification, but names Morris L. Cooke as the true leader and visionary, laying the foundation for a federal program with a 1934 report that called for the creation of a federal agency whose responsibility would be to “build the necessary infrastructure since the market would not otherwise furnish electricity to sparsely populated localities” (Malone). This was the Rural Electrification Administration, officially created in 1935 under an executive order. Malone goes on to explain the remarkable success of the R.E.A., saying that “the process of introducing rural areas to the twentieth-century economy began with [its] creation” and claiming that it “narrowed the cultural, education and commercial divide between urban and rural America” (Malone).


Malone presents the standard history of the introduction of electricity into rural America. This narrative consists of the industry ignoring rural parts of the country and focusing their attention on places that will give them more money (urban settings). It names a few heroes – FDR and Cook – that save the day with the introduction of the R.E.A. Further, the conventional story focuses so much attention on these heroes, the success of their creation, and the economic implications that it leaves out many other aspects of the actual event.


Having limited prior knowledge on electrical history in general, Malone offers a nice basis, but he leaves out much of story, and exaggerates the rest. This narrative does not look far beyond the economic history. It does not discuss the social situation of the era, so the context is incomplete. It exaggerates the success of its actors and simplifies the narrative, leaving other information untold. Further, the promotion of big names as the sole historical actors leaves out many others involved in the actual story.


Word Count: 433


Laurence Malone. “Rural Electrification Administration”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. March 16, 2008. URL


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