|Leah S. Glaser
Department of History
Arizona State University
Leah S. Glaser, "Rural Electrification in
Multiethnic Arizona: A Study in Power, Urbanization, and
Change," PhD Dissertation, Arizona State University, May
2002. Approved February 28, 2002. Advisors: Dr.
Warren-Findley, Chair, Dr. Peter Iverson, Dr. Robert Trennert.
"Rural Electrification in Arizona: A Study of Power, Urbanization,
From as early as the 1880s until as late as the 1970s, electrical power
served as a critical tool for bringing America's diverse western
communities into an urban industrial era. This study examines the
process of electrification in three demographically diverse rural regions
of Eastern Arizona. These three regions include the valleys of the
Southeast, the White Mountains, and the Navajo Reservation to the north.
While federal programs aided rural residents, local and regional factors
determined the timing and nature of electrification and its impact.
Access to electricity depended upon economics and
technological advances, as well as a combination of local community and
regional characteristics such as location, landscape, demographics,
politics, and culture. At the turn of the century, electricity, with
its elaborate and extensive infrastructure of wires, towers, and poles,
emerged across America's cultural landscapes as the industrial era's
most prominent symbol of progress, power, and a modern, urban lifestyle.
Technological innovations and mechanization flourished, but primarily in
the urban areas of the Northeast. People living outside concentrated
settlements, of all ethnic backgrounds, had few hopes for delivery due to
the cost of building power lines to a limited market.
Arizona's rural population has historically been
ethnically diverse, and its landscape varies from desert valleys to
mountains of alpine forest. The federal government owns much of the
land. Aided by federal guidance and funding sources like the New Deal's
Rural Electrification Administration (REA), the existing rural communities
took the initiative and constructed electrical systems specific to their
local and regional needs. While products of the communities that built
them, these systems symbolized and defined newly urbanized regions within
the context of old rural landscapes, lifestyles, and traditions.
In some ways the rural electrification process urbanized
rural Arizona. The transmission and distribution lines that
eventually crossed rural farms, mountains, valleys, and ranges, connected
isolated communities, towns, and settlements, stimulated household
modernization, and promoted economic change. Although this process
may have occurred at different times for different populations, the
resulting electrical systems were locally initiated, controlled, and
customized to the needs and characteristics of the region and its