Marshfield, March 1919: That’s electrifying
Area residents meet to decide Wood County’s power plans
By Kris Leonhardt
Before the 1880s, electrical power did not exist, and until the 1930s, very few rural areas had the luxury of power and light.
Power companies kept their eye on the more profitable cities and were reluctant to invest in Wisconsin’s rural communities. With little money to supply on their own, many small towns and rural area were left without the benefits electricity.
In March 1919, a group of Wood County farmers and businessmen representing Wood County’s towns, villages, and farm lands met at the Marshfield City Hall. In addition to those representing the city of Marshfield, there were 64 individuals from the remainder of Wood County.
The meeting was administered by Marshfield’s Chamber of Commerce with the purpose of securing electric power and light within the county. In addition, Marshfield was looking to increase its power distribution within the city and was considering options that might incorporate its home county’s goals.
When the city purchased the power plant from William H. Upham, the little electricity that was being used within the city was mainly in the evening hours. As the use of electricity grew, the plant needed to grow to keep up with the demand.
During the meeting, chamber leaders explained three options they were considering in dealing with Marshfield’s needs.
The first idea was to bring a transmission line into the city that would provide power to a switchboard, which would then deliver power and light into homes and businesses. The second option was to obtain a franchise to power the city. Marshfield’s third option, and possibly the most appealing, was to enlarge the existing power plant and supply power and light as a city.
With representation from several power companies on hand, Wood County residents explored the possibility of expanding power throughout the county and entertained cost estimates to smaller municipalities and farms.
A 13,000-volt line to Arpin was calculated at $625 per mile with a distribution system costing $1,500.
All in attendance agreed that they should work together for the common goal of electrifying the county. A 16-person committee was appointed, including John Schilling, John Jenkins, James Chapman, and L. Michels of Marshfield.