The Day the Lights Came On

We live in a connected world.  The average family has several smartphones, a smart TV, several tablets and gaming consoles.  You can open the garage door and change the thermostat right from your cellphone. And all of these modern necessities require electricity. It’s hard for many people to imagine living in a world without electricity, but two generations ago, most homes in rural Delaware relied on oil lamps and lanterns to brighten the night.
Larger, for-profit utilities wouldn’t invest the capital necessary to run power lines to the most secluded parts of Delaware. Delaware Electric Cooperative answered the call to bring the life-changing benefits of electricity to those living along the still mostly dirt roads of Kent and Sussex counties.
DEC was founded in 1936 by a group of farmers. A one-room building, warmed by a single wood stove, served as the Co-op’s first headquarters. The first utility poles and power lines were constructed in 1937, and those who were lucky enough to be on that year’s electrification list were filled with anticipation.
Bob Holloway was 7 years old in 1937 and his family expected their power to be turned on around Christmas. “The Co-op was out there putting poles in.  Mom said she wanted to get me an electric train for Christmas and she asked her friend, who worked at the Co-op, to see if they could get the poles in,” said Holloway.  “It was right in the kitchen, we were having lunch on Christmas Eve and all of a sudden we had lights everywhere. Mom said we got them! It’s just a different world.” Bob laughed as he added, “But, I did not have an electric train.”
Holloway said electricity dramatically changed his life. “It’s hard to explain, we had running water, a bathroom, something we hadn’t had in the seven years I lived there. It was my great-grandfather’s home. Today it would be considered a shack, but back then it was considered a nice home.”
The benefits of electricity weren’t just confined to the house.  Farmers also welcomed electricity, as it made their often-difficult work much easier. According to Holloway, “It completely changed everything. We had electric in the barn where we used to have lanterns to milk the cows. We even had electric in there for my pony. It was hard to believe, like it’s not the same place. You just push a button and you’ve got electric.”
The Holloways couldn’t afford lights for their Christmas tree that first year, but in 1938, Holloway said Christmas morning looked very different. “We had a Christmas tree with lights all over it and it was just great. It had nothing but lights on it.”
Bob Holloway, who is now 86, is still waiting for that electric train, but remains grateful for the electrification of rural Delaware.

The Day the Lights Came On Images
linemen on old pole
Erecting pole