History of OEC
"From Dream to Reality"
The Great Depression took a dramatic toll on the employment, income and the morale of the American people. Rural Oklahoma was not immune to this economic plummet and suffered greatly. Oklahoma farmers who had diligently worked toward the American dream saw their precious land sold for little to nothing during this desperate time in our history.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the presidency he took on the responsibility of getting the American people back on their feet. During his administration he proposed a plan to help solve America's financial problems which was called the "New Deal". The New Deal included significant legislation that laid the foundation for future rural electric cooperatives. Roosevelt saw the potential benefits of providing a way for rural America to have electricity supplied to their homes and farms where investor-owned utilities refused to serve.
President Roosevelt once stated, "Electricity is a modern necessity of life and ought to be found in every village, home, and every farm in every part of the United States." To this end his administration formed the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) on May 11, 1935. The REA provided governmentally guaranteed loans for the formation of consumer-owned and operated electric cooperatives. The REA had strict guidelines which specified that no rural resident would be denied electrical power if they paid a fair and affordable membership fee and made proper utility preparations inside their privately owned structures.
In July, 1936, some members of the rural community in central Oklahoma formed an ad hoc committee to pursue the formation of an electric cooperative. The members of this committee included E.E. "Doc" Hardin-OEC's first president, H.C. Smith, Horace Sheff, Paul Fontenier, George Nemecek, M.D. Sewell, H.H. Smith, B.I. Poe and J. Harold Redman.
The REA loan funding was at an extremely low interest rate of two percent, but one of the requirements to receive the loan funding was to sign up at least three members per each mile of projected line. This was a real challenge for the committee because of the skepticism of the rural community. During these dire economic times $5.00 was a lot of money to invest in something that was only a proposed idea. However, with the help of favorable reporting in the Norman Transcript and the steadfast determination of the members of the committee, rural electricity was moving from a dream to reality.
By October 1, 1936, approximately 700 people between Cleveland and McClain Counties had signed up for membership, enabling the future electric cooperative to request an REA loan. Throughout the remainder of 1936 meetings were held at the University of Oklahoma Science Hall to address concerns regarding the formation of the new cooperative. On January 13, 1937, the Oklahoma Inter-County Electric Cooperative became recognized as a full-fledged cooperative.
Two weeks later, on January 30, the first Board of Directors was elected. During the first year and a half, the Directors' time was dedicated to purchasing equipment, hiring employees and taking care of legal matters. The fruits of their labor was realized when line construction began in May, 1938. The first cooperative power line stretched south of Noble from Bailey's Corner at Highway 77 to Slaughterville.
Later that year a total of 260 miles of line was energized, bringing electricity to 428 members. This momentous event occurred on Mr. E.E. Hardin's farm. The Hardin family hosted a "Turning On" party to celebrate this special occasion. Mr. Hardin threw the switch on the first electric light bulb in rural central Oklahoma. By the end of 1938, members were using an average of 42 kWh per month, for which they were billed $3.46. There would be many changes taking place during this time shaping central Oklahoma's new rural electric cooperative. In 1939, the cooperative shortened its name to Oklahoma Electric Cooperative which it still retains today. OEC was on the way to its goal of providing the best electrical service at the lowest possible cost.