Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

The Introduction of Electrical Power

Today, most people take electricity for granted. Asked where it comes from, most would respond, "out of the wall." Yet before the 1880s, no one had access to electrical power, and until the 1930s very few Wisconsin farms had electricity. Constructing power lines and generating the energy that flowed over them were costly investments that few farmers could afford. Power companies were reluctant to subsidize rural electrification because it was more profitable to provide service to cities. The Depression only emphasized the large disparity between urban and rural life in Wisconsin. Electric power not only helped with farm work, but... more...

Original Documents and Other Primary Sources

Link to article: The story of Wisconsin's first electric light.  The story of Wisconsin's first electric light.
Link to article: Electricity is sold for the first time anywhere (Appleton, 1882)  Electricity is sold for the first time anywhere (Appleton, 1882)
Link to artifacts: An electric mixer from the 1920s  An electric mixer from the 1920s
Link to book: Electric stoves and heaters made by a Milwaukee firm, 1929.  Electric stoves and heaters made by a Milwaukee firm, 1929.
Link to book: The virtues of electric appliances described in verse and pictures, 1916  The virtues of electric appliances described in verse and pictures, 1916
Link to book: Catalogs of electrical equipment, 1920-1925  Catalogs of electrical equipment, 1920-1925
Link to book: Rural electrification is given a boost in 1937.  Rural electrification is given a boost in 1937.
Link to book: Wisconsin waterways spell the future of electric power, 1918  Wisconsin waterways spell the future of electric power, 1918
Link to images: Images of Wisconsin's first electrical generating plant and its successors  Images of Wisconsin's first electrical generating plant and its successors
Link to images: Early fixtures in the first Wisconsin home to use electricity.  Early fixtures in the first Wisconsin home to use electricity.
Link to places: Madison Gas and Electric Company Powerhouse  Madison Gas and Electric Company Powerhouse
Link to places: The nation's first unified electric power utility in Milwaukee  The nation's first unified electric power utility in Milwaukee

Primary Sources Available Elsewhere

Link to article: A scientist brings his traveling electricity show to schoolchildren  A scientist brings his traveling electricity show to schoolchildren
Link to article: An 1890 plan for an electric rail system in Milwaukee  An 1890 plan for an electric rail system in Milwaukee
Link to article: The progress and problems of rural electrification in 1937  The progress and problems of rural electrification in 1937
Link to book: Wisconsin Blue Books  Wisconsin Blue Books
Link to images: An electrification cooperative in Westby, 1942  An electrification cooperative in Westby, 1942

Related Links

Discover classroom resources available from our Office of School Services
Search our catalogs for materials on this topic that aren't yet available online.
Borrow books about this topic through our interlibrary loan service
Borrow manuscripts about this topic through our Area Research Center network.
Learn about other topics from our new book, Wisconsin History Highlights
Audio, film, and articles about Thomas Edison at the Library of Congress
Visit the home of the man who first brought Wis. electrcity

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text