Experience a dramatic story of Texas at the LBJ Library and Museum

Sep 02, 2006

Walk into a world before television, computers, the iPod, refrigerators or even running water at the LBJ Library and Museum exhibit, Power to the People: The Electrification of Rural Texas. Power to the People tells the dramatic story of the introduction of electricity to the Texas Hill Country and the impact it had on the region's development, progress and economic welfare.

Early settlers in the Hill Country were captivated by its beauty, but did not realize the land was very difficult to farm. They were soon relegated to a life of extreme poverty, worsened by the lack of electric power that could have improved their lives. While most Americans had been using electric appliances for roughly 30-50 years, the rugged terrain of Central Texas made it expensive to deliver electricity to the region.

Power to the People will portray life in the Hill Country, circa 1935, and show what conditions were like before electrification. Visitors to the exhibit will journey through time to see a re-creation of what it was like to feel the heat of a Texas summer without air conditioning, bend over a scrub board to wash clothes, wrap cloth around a red-hot iron to press wrinkles out of clothes, and store food without a refrigerator.

Lyndon Johnson grew up in this environment and vowed that when he had the political power, he would try to improve the lives of the people he knew. When he became a congressman, Johnson began his campaign to bring electricity to the Hill Country. Johnson eventually targeted the publicly funded Lower Colorado River.

Authority as a source for residents to buy electric power. He then convinced residents to join cooperatives and personally appealed to President Franklin Roosevelt to relax population density requirements for a Rural Electrification Administration loan.

As a congressman, bringing electricity to rural Texas was Johnson's proudest achievement. He wrote in a 1959 letter, "I think of all the things I have ever done, nothing has ever given me as much satisfaction as bringing power to the Hill Country of Texas."

Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) is the major sponsor of the exhibit. "We're proud of the rich history of cooperatives and the unique relationship PEC had with Lyndon Johnson, commented PEC General Manager Bennie Fuelberg. "Because he was a founder of PEC, we served his hometown, and we provided electricity to his ranch, he took a special interest in our organization. Pedernales Electric owes a great deal of its success to the vision and foresight of LBJ, and we're happy to participate in this remarkable presentation.

The exhibit will feature home movies narrated by Lady Bird Johnson showing scenes of Washington, D.C., during LBJ's congressional years. "Rural electrification was a part of Lyndon to the core and set the stage for his life's work", Mrs. Johnson said through a spokesman. Engraved on my heart is a picture of an elderly woman in rural Central Texas, Lyndon by her side, reaching up to turn on a light for the first time in what obviously was a farm house. Rural electrification changed life for all our rural population and changed the world we had known for the better.

Other exhibit highlights include:

  • A large, lighted art deco-style sign from Pedernales Electric.
  • The first electric meter installed at a Hill Country home in the Pedernales Electric service area, on loan from PEC.
  • Electric appliances from the rural electrification period.
  • Music of the times, speeches and radio interviews about electrification.
  • Correspondence between Lyndon Johnson and President Roosevelt.
  • A fifteen-minute film of the entire story of rural electrification by KLRU producer Lynn Boswell.

The Museum store will offer:

  • 60 Years of Home Cooking, a new cookbook published by Texas Co-op Power magazine that takes readers on a journey of tasty recipes and eating trends from the 1930s to the 1990s.
  • Bar-b-que sauce and rubs from The Salt Lick".
  • Music CDs by the Gimbles, featuring legendary, Grammy Award-winning fiddle player Johnny Gimble.
  • Items highlighting the flavors and culture of the Hill Country.