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Building a New Electrical Society

NEMA’s vision of post-war prosperity included all-electric households, steadily growing demand for electrical products in the commercial and industrial markets, and an expansion of the electrical trade overseas. Keenly aware of the social and demographic changes underway in the United States after 1945, NEMA set about devising promotional campaigns designed to appeal to a new group of consumers who were growing in influence: women.

One of the first large-scale campaigns of the 1950s was the “Bright Ideas for Ladies,” or “What to Teach Your Husbands About Electric Wiring” program, written in cooperation with Underwriters Laboratories. Like previous NEMA promotions, the “Bright Ideas” effort made use of a new communications technology—television—to increase the association’s visibility. Other active business development efforts during the 1950s included a national refrigeration campaign, an electric range and cookery initiative, a street and highway lighting campaign, and a variety of commercial food service and safety programs.

NEMA was very aggressive in forming partnerships with electrical leagues and the Edison Electric Institute, which, by 1956, was operating its own nationwide residential electricity campaign (“Housepower”). In 1957, General Electric organized the Medallion Home Program, a promotional activity that targeted homebuilders and served as an adjunct to the widely known “Live Better Electrically” (LBE) campaign. NEMA provided technical assistance to all of these programs, coordinating standards with EEI, G.E., and the non-affiliated LBE office. On January 1, 1960, NEMA became more formally involved with national household promotions when the association took over the Medallion Home certification program.

In 1959, NEMA lifted long-standing prohibitions on joint promotional and technical development projects co-financed or co-managed with other trade groups or commercial entities. These changes allowed a broad expansion of NEMA’s promotional activities over the next two decades.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, NEMA’s policy interests shifted in response to what one managing director referred to as the “throttling of markets by restrictive local and state legislation.” NEMA became especially concerned with new restrictions that limited the ability of electric utility companies to market appliances through special sales promotions. Another cause for concern in NEMA circles was market encroachment by foreign electrical manufacturers. Within a few short years, significant changes to the membership of the association, coupled with serious policy and energy problems at home and abroad, altered the association’s outlook and brought lasting changes to NEMA’s organization and orientation.

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