It wasn't just the dust that chased families off their farms during the Depression. The bright lights of the city beckoned, symbolizing all that electricity made possible: indoor plumbing, refrigerated foods, lamps and radios, and, simple though it may sound, places to meet after dark.

Enter the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), one of Roosevelt's flurry of New Deal programs. Established in 1935, the REA was tasked with bringing electricity to 5 million farms nationwide—not by building a new power system, but by providing low-interest loans to communities to build their own local systems. Today there are more than 900 rural electric cooperatives providing power in locations across America.

The REA gave a boost to struggling small towns and homesteads, which traditionally shut down after dark. Schoolchildren could now study during the evening, promoting education and literacy. Store owners were able to attract business at the end of the workday, fueling local commerce. The building and maintenance of the new electrical infrastructure created jobs and, just as importantly, pride of place.