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Light - Rural Electrification Administration. Poster by Lester Beall, 1930s. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.25374

Lights, Power, Action!

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American poster artist Lester Beall was hired to design posters to garner support for the work of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in the 1930s. The REA was launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order in May 1935, and then supported by Congress’ passage of the Rural Electrification Act in May 1936. At the time, nearly 90% of farms lacked electricity. By 1950, that number dropped to about 20%, dramatically changing the lives of millions of Americans.

Beall’s eye-catching graphics in the first series of posters he created were intended to convey a simple message about the benefits of electricity coming to rural America: lights, communication (radio), powered tools and farm implements, running water, and more.

Light – Rural Electrification Administration. Poster by Lester Beall, 1930s. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.25374
Farm work – Rural Electrification Administration. Poster by Lester Beall, 1930s. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g14728

Asked to make another series of posters, Beall focused on the results of the work and emphasized the positive progress. He used photomontage to put real people into the story. In the poster below, an older woman enjoys the benefits of electric light as she works on her sewing, and, in the second poster, a smiling worker promises the arrival of electricity with the simple statement: “Here it comes.”

Now I’m satisfied – Rural Electrification Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Poster by Lester Beall, 1930s. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g14730
Here it comes – Rural Electrification Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Poster by Lester Beall, 1930s. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g14735

Beall’s third series showed the electricity in action, as it improved the well-being of rural Americans, and helped farms grow and succeed. The man featured in the first poster below is using “Power on the farm” as he sharpens a blade. In the second poster, water now comes with just “A turn of the hand,” easing the labor of working a farm.

Power on the farm – Rural Electrification Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Poster by Lester Beall, 1940. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g14726
A turn of the hand – Rural Electrification Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Poster by Lester Beall, 1930s. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g14729

 

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