Traditional histories of rural electrification glorify New Deal efforts to bring electricity to farmers, enabling them to enjoy modern amenities equal to those of their urban counterparts. Though not disparaging the fruitful work performed by government agencies in the 1930s, this article challenges standard narratives by highlighting extensive electrification efforts undertaken earlier by power companies and land–grant universities. While many urban utility executives viewed the rural power market with disdain, others formed an undercurrent movement that—even in an agricultural recession—led to an almost quadrupling of electrified farms in the years between 1923 and 1931. The article concludes with an explanation for the persistence of the conventional historiography of rural electrification. It suggests that scholars may have ignored the context of the pre–Depression era, when government rarely intervened in enterprises undertaken by business organizations. More significantly, perhaps, historians found the well–accepted account appealing because it contains colorful actors and a rousing angels–versus–devils storyline.

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