In the 1930s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the solution of this hardship as an opportunity to create new jobs, stimulate manufacturing, and begin to pull the nation out of the despair and hopelessness of the Great Depression. On May 11, 1935, he signed an executive order establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). One of the key pieces of Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives, the REA would provide loans and other assistance so that rural cooperatives—basically, groups of farmers—could build and run their own electrical distribution systems.
The model for the system came from an engineer. In 1935, Morris Llewellyn Cooke, a mechanical engineer who had devised efficient rural distribution systems for power companies in New York and Pennsylvania, had written a report that detailed a plan for electrifying the nation's rural regions. Appointed by Roosevelt as the REA's first administrator, Cooke applied an engineer's approach to the problem, instituting what was known at the time as "scientific management"—essentially systems engineering. Rural electrification became one of the most successful government programs ever enacted. Within 2 years it helped bring electricity to some 1.5 million farms through 350 rural cooperatives in 45 of the 48 states. By 1939 the cost of a mile of rural line had dropped from $2,000 to $600. Almost half of all farms were wired by 1942 and virtually all of them by the 1950s.
Getting electric power from where it is generated to customers who need it remains a critical factor in the electrification of the world in general. The basic system on which the electrical supply depends—the power grid—hasn't changed much since its earliest days, except in scale. Power plants equipped with generators convert a source of energy—fossil fuel, falling water, wind, the sun, a nuclear reactor—into electricity. That electrical power is then transmitted through the distribution system to individual buildings, factories, homes, and farms.