San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

FDR’s Alphabet Soup

Records from the Great Depression
Cath Madden Trindle 
EHFA–Electric Home and Farm Authority

 created by Executive Order 6514 19 Dec 1933 
terminated Executive Order 9256 13 Oct 1942
It was all well and good to bring electricity to the farm, but without “modern” appliances the farmers could not take advantage of that electricity.  Determined to increase the need for electricity, David Lilienthal, director of the TVA (1) set about creating the  Electric Home and Farm Authority to help farmers purchase major electric appliances. (2)
The EHFA made arrangements with appliance makers to supply electric ranges, refrigerators and water heaters at reasonable prices. These appliances were sold at local power companies and electric cooperatives.  A farmer could purchase the appliances with low-cost loans offered by the EHFA.
1935 TVA Kitchen Planner (RG 234 [Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Electric Home and Farm Authority], box 35,
folder 412.1-11, “Kitchens (all-electric),” National Archives, Washington, D.C.)
The EHFA made the loans affordable  by stretching out  payments from the then-standard consumer credit term of 24 months to between 36 and 60 months.  Payment was simplified by adding a monthly surcharge to the purchasers electric bill.
The program was very successful in the early years.  Those living on farms were shown to be more likely to purchase electrical conveniences than their city counterparts.  The cooperatives established recouped their costs of electrification within 5 years rather than the 12-14 that had been predicted.
In 1936, Richard A Harvill stated in his article Recent Trends of Utility Appliance Merchandising (2) that, “Of the major appliances electric refrigerator sales have exhibited the most remarkable growth. Despite relatively low consumer buying power the number of domestic refrigerators sold increased from 965,ooo in I93I to 1,400,000 in I934.”  With over 20 million homes electrified by 1934 it was estimated that between 5 and 6 million had refrigerators.
Further discussion of the design and merchandising of refrigerators can be found in Preserving Women: Refrigerator Design as Social Process in the 1930s. (4)  You can read more about the operations of the EHFA in the 1940 report of the National Bureau of Economic Research,  Organization and Operations of the Electric Home Farm Authority.  Studies in Consumer Instalment Financing (5) looks at the impact of EFHA and other financing schemes in 1941.
Many of the above articles are found on  JSTOR.  JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive.”  A library card for a university library and for some public libraries will give you access to some or all of the online collection.  You may also be able to access the collection from within a library without having a library card.
Did your ancestors get an EHFA loan?  The records for loans funded by the EHFA will most likely be found with the records of the cooperatives formed by the REA.

  1. TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) 1933-present. NARA RG142 – Created  to operate government- owned properties at Muscle Shoals, Alabama and  to develop water and power resources of the Tennessee River watershed where soil erosion and massive unpredictable floods had left parts of 7 states impoverished and under utilized. The construction of  20 new dams, emphasis on teaching residents better soil management, and sale of hydroelectric power at low prices was designed to improve the social and economic well being of the valley.
  2. Field, Gregory B “Electricity for All”: The Electric Home and Farm Authority and the Politics of Mass Consumption, 1932-1935, The Business History Review, Vol. 64, No. 1, Government and Business (Spring, 1990), pp. 32-60
  3. Recent Trends in Utility Appliance Merchandising Richard A. Harvill  The Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics, Vol. 12, No. 2 (May, 1936), pp. 149-160.  This article discusses the controversy of utility companies merchandising appliances and the legislation introduced at around the country to stop the activity.
  4. Preserving Women”: Refrigerator Design as Social Process in the 1930s Shelley Nickles Technology and Culture, Vol. 43, No. 4, Kitchen Technologies (Oct., 2002), pp. 693-727
  5. Studies in Consumer Instalment Financing Bonnar Brown Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Dec., 1941), pp. 608-611

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