Before there ever was a Rural Electric Administration; before Franklin Roosevelt won his first presidential election; before Herbert Hoover became president; Consumers had the first electric line in Michigan dedicated to rural customers.
This month marks the 85th anniversary of that significant milestone in our company’s history. Built in cooperation with Michigan State College, the pioneering seven-mile line ran between Mason and Dansville and served 13 farm families when it was energized on Feb. 4, 1927. Up until that time, the only farmers who had electricity lived on the edge of a village or town.
What happened from that point on is nothing short of amazing. By the end of 1937, Consumers had over 10,000 miles of rural lines and 41,307 farm customers. In 1949, Consumers brought electricity to its 100,000th farm customer, making it the first utility in the nation to reach that milestone.
In 1938, the Edison Electric Institute awarded Consumers the Thomas W. Martin Rural Electrification Award recognizing the company as making the most outstanding contribution to rural electrification of any other utility in the country.
The farms that connected to the Mason-Dansville line were transformed as they made full use of electricity. These changes were recorded in a 1946 master’s thesis completed by then Michigan State College student Richard Schroeder.
Of the 13 farms originally connected to the Mason-Dansville line, 10 still had the original owners in 1946. In a survey, Schroeder asked the 10 farms to rank 20 electric devices in the order of importance to their farms. A milking machine ranked eighth ahead of a radio and water heater. The highest ranked was electric lights in the house followed by running water, a washing machine, electric lights in the barn, a refrigerator, electric stove, and a flat iron.
“Every family has running water in the house, and they all have a bathroom as a result,” wrote Schroeder in his thesis. “These conveniences, more than anything else, make life worth living to many people.”
Schroeder calculated that in 19 years, these farms saved over 50,000 hours of labor with electricity. In his thesis he cites an example of a milking machine that milked 20 cows in an hour for 1 cent while hand milking took two hours.
Since the Mason-Dansville line was energized, rural Michigan has changed dramatically. Today, Consumers Energy serves more than 30,000 farm customers, more than any other utility in Michigan.