Clay-Union Electric – South Dakota's 1st Electric Cooperative
For many years, farmers in southeastern South Dakota and in this nation were without electricity. In 1935 the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) by an executive order. On November 25 of that same year, some 15 men met in E.J. Manning's store in Burbank and organized the first rural electric cooperative of the state. The first organization was known as the Fairview Electric Association. A loan from REA was applied for by this infant organization. The loan was turned down because not enough members had been "signed up" to make the loan feasible. These rural electric leaders didn't give up. They went out and got more signers. A loan was approved. After nearly two years of hard work by these directors, 67 miles of line were constructed and on October 3, 1937 electricity began flowing through Clay-Union Electrics lines. That was the humble beginning for a business that today serves electricity to more than 3,400 members in Clay and parts of Yankton and Union counties.
These rural electric members did for themselves what they could not get done in any other way. It took a lot of hard work. It still does. The Directors had to learn how to conduct a business completely foreign to them. They had the courage to tackle a business that the commercial companies said could not be done. But they did it. The electricity flows now to virtually all the farms in the area served by Clay-Union Electric. It took more than just courage. Rural electrification became possible only when the federal administration entered into a real partnership with the people. It took, in other words, faith of the people in themselves.