Rural Electrification In Arizona
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Leah S. Glaser PhD.

 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. Jannelle
Warren-Findley, Chair, Dr. Peter Iverson, Dr. Robert Trennert.

"Rural Electrification in Arizona: A Study of Power, Urbanization, and Change"

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 component communities.


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Leah S. Glaser visits SMECC and examines some of the artifacts being used to build the REA display. 5/28/02

ANNOUNCEMENT:  Leah Has informed us this is to come out in book form soon! A copy of her Dissertation is on file at the museum for reference. 1/1/2005

Leah may be reached at 203-623-9706 concerning updates on this.


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