The cooperative story starts in the mid-1930's with the creation of the REA. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935. The REA was created to encourage electrification of the nation's rural areas and to provide loan capital to make electric service available. The original intent was to provide a source of funds that would be used by existing electric companies to extend service from urban areas into the countryside.
However, most people in the electric power industry concluded that serving farms and other rural residences would not be profitable. By the end of the REA's first year, only seven investor-owned utilities in the United States had borrowed funds for rural electrification.
On January 1, 1936, after the REA became law and Wisconsin Governor Phill LaFollette had created the State of Wisconsin Rural Electrification Coordination Office, Mr. D.P. Hughes and Mr. Ed Ruud aggressively started out to organize the REA Cooperative in Dunn County. In the promotion of such a cooperative many meetings were held throughout the county at school houses and town halls. In the meantime, John Becker was appointed to the position of the Attorney General of the State of Wisconsin. It was with his invaluable assistance that our cooperative was established.
The formal Articles of Incorporation of the cooperative were filed with the state on April 22,1937. Our Founding Fathers and incorporators were: W.E. Owen, M.B. Rotnem, Arnold Gilberts, Clem Catt, and Paul Tietz. The first board of directors were: Edd Baskin, Clem Catt, Arnold Gilberts, Ed Karnes, W.E. Owen, M.B. Rotnem, Ed Ruud, F.C. Sutliff, and Paul Tietz.
One of Dunn County Electric Cooperative's first line crews
The year 1938 was a big one for Dunn County Electric Cooperative. The first farm current was turned on on June 24, 1938. Here at the co-op to this day we refer to is as the Old Peabody Farm on State Road 25, but in actuality the first owner of that farm was Peter Schwartz. That account still has the account number 1. It was also in 1938 that the cooperative hired Tony Brensdal as a lineman. Brensdal eventually became the manager of of DCEC in 1945 and held that position until his retirement in 1976. Through his years of service Brensdal invented many things to make work easier for his employees. He designed the first line truck used by the cooperative in his office and had a local man, Charlie Olson, build it.
The first line truck that the cooperative owned was designed by Tony Brensdal and custom built locally
At the beginning holes were dug by hand and poles were raised by hand. Many of those poles are still in use today. Over the past 75 years we have installed over 1,900 more miles of line. Nothing compares, however, to the amount built in those early years. By January of 1940, in a short year and a half, the cooperative built 580 miles of line. Holes dug by hand and lines raised by teams of horses. By that year the average monthly electric bill for a farm served by the cooperative was $4.43.
In our 50-year Anniversary report there is an interview with Tony about his time with the cooperative. "When we'd turn on the power, you should see how happy they would be. They would jump up and down, tickled to death to have this power," he said.
Things may be a little different today. We have machinery and tools to help us do our jobs. Many people take that flip of the switch for granted. If it wasn't for our forefathers, we wouldn't have the luxuries we do today.
Cooperative Movies: A Blast From the Past
One of the very first electrical safety videos ever created and distributed worldwide was made right here in Dunn County in 1956. Dunn County Electric Cooperative employees took part in the making of the movie. We found the original reel-to-reel movie when searching through the archives for our 75-year anniversary. You can view the video here. Enjoy My Pop's a Lineman!
For a great narrative about how the Cooperative movement started, you can watch Bob Marshall Comes Home on Youtube.
You can also watch the Electric Co-op Story on Youtube.