It may seem far fetched to link rural electrification of the United States in 1937 with Germany of 1714, yet it was in the latter year that the basis was formed of the Amana Society, which is soon to enjoy power on its farms and in its homes and industrial establishments in Iowa.
Late in 1714, a little group of people, dissenting from the orthodox Lutheranism of the time, formed a new sect, the Inspirationists. The group grew rapidly, but it was time of persecution for those of unorthodox beliefs, and after 125 years the colony sold its estates in Hesse and moved to America, locating first near Buffalo, N.Y. The group later purchased some 26,000 acres of land in the then new State of Iowa to which the settlement was transferred in the years from 1854 to 1863. Shortly afterwards the Inspirationists changed their name to the Amana Society.
A deeply religious sentiment was still the keynote of every phase of their community life. Few concessions were made to the philosophy of democracy. But a new order of things was at hand and the elders of the Amana Society found it increasingly difficult to keep it isolated from modern influences. Younger members grew dissatisfied.
The railroad, the automobile, the telegraph, the telephone, the daily newspapers, and the insistent gossip of “worldly minded” visitors were the forces that broke the circle of seclusion. It was impossible to maintain an early eighteenth century culture in a high-powered industrial age. Modern methods were used in the village industries, modern equipment in the farming. Automobiles became commonplace. Intelligent leadership faced these facts.
The result was the abandonment of the community kitchen houses where for so long the members had come together to eat. Today every family owns its own house and provides its own food and clothing, prepares it own meals, takes care of its own garden, and pays its own bills – in short, enjoys the blessings and worries of a householder who strives to make both ends meet.
The change of the Amana Society from the old way of living to the new came in the early part of 1932. There was nothing vague or irresolute in the new plan nor was there anything radically revolutionary in it. There were no theoretical controversies regarding a social order, but a frank and courageous facing of existing conditions and a thoughtful and conservative readjustment to the age in which the community found itself.
The passing of the old way of living to the new was characterized by a unique combination of capitalism, cooperation, and individualism. It meant the birth of a new sense of community freedom and a new sense of community responsibility. It meant that the last stand of the community for isolation from the world had been lost.
In the matter of government, the change to the new life meant the end of a self-perpetuating churn autocracy and the birth of a new one-man-one-vote democracy with a governing board of 13 directors chosen by the 1,500 members of the Amana Society, about 900 of voting age, the remainder minors.
How successful the new mode of living has been is best summed up by Bertha M. H. Shambaugh in the Palimpsest, a monthly publication of the State Historical Society of Iowa. She writes:
“In the years that have passed since the birth of the new Amana Society many of my doubts have disappeared. It now seems to me that without any substantial loss of things that make life really worthwhile, the new Amana Society has achieved freedom for the individual, freedom for the community, and a modest measure of economic security.”
While electricity had been used for some time in the woolen mills and the woodworking factories of the seven Amana villages, it had not been used in the homes or on the farms. The members had no conception of how electric power could be used to lessen daily drudgery or improve living conditions. But it was typical of the new outlook that the Amana Society submitted one of the first applications to the Rural Electrification Administration. REA has allocated $37,000 to build 21 miles of line to serve 246 homes. Part of the energy will be purchased from the Iowa Electric Light & Power Co., and the balance obtained from the society’s own generating plant. After competitive bids were received and studied, the society has awarded a construction contract for this project to the MIller-Baxter Co. Construction has already started, and soon the new line will be energized.
Here is a community that, having functioned for seven generations as a benevolent and self-supporting church autocracy, is now operating as a one-man-one-vote industrial democracy. Without disturbing its old-world quiet and peace, electricity will bring modern comfort and methods to Amana.
An Argument for Rural Electrification. Kerosene in an earlier day was a boon to the store, to industry, and to the home. It replaced primitive methods of illumination. Its general use contributed to better living, to the pleasant evening hour. It was a decided improvement on the tallow candle and dip. Kerosene today remains a vigorous argument in favor of rural electrification, as many, were they still among the living, could eloquently testify. A Kansas home is destroyed by reason of an attempt to hasten the firing of a kitchen stove by pouring on kerosene. Hot embers were in the ashes and the result of a quick fire was achieved with ghastly vengeance. An Ohio woman, filling a lamp, caused the explosion of a kerosene container, resulting in her death, that of a daughter, three other small children dangerously burned. There is a wide field for progressive firms and individuals who generate electric current for general distribution. – Wichita (Kans.) Beacon.