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NEMA in War and Peace

As the electrical economy began to recover after 1936, NEMA initiated a series of promotional programs aimed at increasing sales across the divisions and sections. Rural electrification, promoted by the federal government during the lean years of the Depression as a revitalizing measure, became the focus of NEMA’s biggest promotional effort. Once staunch critics of “baloney electrification”—a euphemism for the promises made by both private and federal entities during the Depression who saw widespread electrification as a cure-all for the country’s economic woes—NEMA created a business development strategy based on large-scale utility expansion and product sales in regions of the country where electrical networks were lacking—especially agricultural areas.

These promotions were designed to create a new base of commercial, industrial, and residential customers; policy committees within the association went to work to promote the idea of national rural electrification to government officials, and forged ties with the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Rural electrification promotions formed the backbone of the NEMA business development strategy until the early 1960s, by which time the focus of the association had shifted to suburban residential construction issues and appliance sales.

NEMA’s most important contribution to the country during the 1940s was standardization—a technical activity that had been the focus of the association’s existence since 1926. The fact that NEMA had established voluntary industry standards for a wide variety of electrical goods and products was a boon for the War Department and Navy Department, neither of which had successfully developed technical standards for electrical devices.

Standardization had, in fact, long been a point of contention in the military establishment, largely because of the decentralized nature of the army and navy’s purchasing systems. When war broke out, first in Manchuria and later in Europe, NEMA stepped forward to provide to the government its many years of expertise in the field of technical standardization.

In November of 1940, newly-elected NEMA President E.O. Schreve stated, “the electrical manufacturing industry is ready to do its share in meeting the vast production problems whose swift and efficient solution must provide the first basic step in our national defense program. Coordinated through NEMA, our industry will take its part in company with others in the steadily increasing tempo of production.” By war’s end, the Army and the Navy had adopted many NEMA standards, especially those related to radio and telephone equipment. NEMA’s standards also facilitated a rapid increase in manufacturing as many former competitors, acting at the request of the government during the war emergency, retooled their factories to produce electrical goods that were in short supply.

Fully committed to supporting the country’s national defense needs during World War II, NEMA made contributions that went beyond standards guidance. The association made a number of improvements to domestic manufacturing by tackling security lighting, safety, and factory process problems that were outside the scope of standards work. War committees organized by NEMA were established to harness the research and development resources of member companies by encouraging cooperation. NEMA also patched its relationship with the IBEW and agreed to coordinate war-time labor policy with the union.

Statistical surveys, another of NEMA’s long-standing functions, were valuable to the War Department’s data collection efforts that evaluated the logistics demands of the armed forces on the industrial base of the country. Many of the methods borrowed by the military establishment to scrutinize supply and cost accounting matters remained in use for decades after the war.

NEMA adopted a new constitution in 1943 to reflect the evolving mission of the association, with special emphasis on public service activities. The objectives included a statement about NEMA’s role in promoting civil electrification to improve the quality of electrical service to the public; the continuation of electrical product standards development work; data collection for the benefit of both NEMA members and the general public; coordination with governmental agencies and organizations tasked with regulating the electrical industry; and cooperation among member companies for the purpose of improving electrical manufacturing.

The spirit of cooperation outside of NEMA was demonstrated at the 1944 annual meeting, when representatives of various non-affiliated trade groups and associations signed on to NEMA’s “Declaration of Electrical Interdependence,” a cooperative agreement that became the foundation of post-war business development for the association.

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