Electricity and Transportation in the 1930s

Grand Forks
June 30, 1939

Appliance stores offered consumers the latest in electrical inventions. Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.

Since 1920 almost all of North Dakota’s town have access to electricity. Some communities have their own power plants. Some are served by electricity providing companies such as Ottertail Power Company and Northern States Power Company. Farms, unless they are within a mile or two of town, have no wired-in electricity. Many, however, have large farm Delco battery systems that can power lights and small appliances. The passage of the New Deal’s rural electrification bill will bring power through cooperatives to all farms. As of yet very few North Dakotan farms have electricity.

By the end of the 1930s, the North Dakota home without a radio was rare. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Farm Security Administration).

Electrical appliances have changed North Dakota life. Radios have brought residents closer to the world. Who would have thought that North Dakota people could hear an opera at the Met, the World Series, or the adventures of Superman in their living rooms. Electric washing machines, irons, stoves, fans, curling irons, and refrigerators have made homemaking much easier. Even movie theaters have cooling devices.

Grand Forks’ “Great White Way.” Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.


September 1, 1936

Northwest Airlines has just announced daily airplane service that connects Minneapolis with Seattle, Washington, with stops in Fargo and Bismarck en route. Since 1931 the airline has provided some flights to Fargo and Grand Forks and since 1935 daily flights to those cities from Minneapolis. Northwest flies the Lockheed Electra 10A which accommodates ten passengers. Each plane has a small restroom to the rear. Box lunches are served. The airline assures customers that air travel is safe. Before a pilot takes off from one city to another, the city of destination must certify that the weather is clear for landing.

A North Dakota airport was a cold place in February of 1935. Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.


December 30, 1939

The three largest freight and passenger railroads that run through North Dakota report an increase in ridership during the past year. The Great Northern, which serves the northern part of the state, touts its streamlined Empire Builder. Now one can leave Minneapolis at 9:00 AM and be in Fargo by 2:50 PM and Williston by midnight. Connections to the north of the mainline have also been improved. If Antler is the destination, one can board a train in Rugby at 2:30 PM and be in Antler by 6:00 PMCwith 12 stops in between, including Bottineau.

The Great Northern Railroad station in Fargo. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Farm Security Administration).

The Northern Pacific’s new North Coast Limited can get a person from Chicago to Bismarck in 24 hours and from Minneapolis to Fargo in six hours. The Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Sault Ste. Marie, known as the Soo, runs through the middle of the state. One can catch a train in St. Paul at 8:30 AM and be in Enderlin by 6:00 PM, Fessenden by 11:00 PM, and Minot by 2:30 AM.

Marmarth is an important railroad center for the Milwaukee Road which cuts through the very southwestern corner of the state. One can leave on the Olympian from St. Paul at 8:10 AM and arrive in Hettinger at 8:41 PM and Marmarth at 10:25 PM.

All the railroads provide fine dining and roomy sleeping compartments. I.M. Cornelius of the NP tells the North Star Dakotan: “Our newer trains have cut almost two hours off the St. Paul to West Coast run.”


December 30, 1939

Although North Dakota has no paved roads, its main United States highways are kept in good repair with gravel. This is especially the case with Highway 10 which crosses from Fargo to Beach; Highway 2, “the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Highway,” from Grand Forks to the Montana line; and north-south highways 81, 83,52, 281, and 85. In extremely wet conditions state highways and farm-to-market roads can be quite treacherous. Winter driving is very hazardous. Many high school students from farms board with a town family during the worst of winter.

Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

Because of the depression the number of trucks and cars registered with the state is the same as it was ten years ago, 183,000. Most folks are keeping their old vehicles going with timely repairs. Miles driven per vehicle, however, have increased from 3,000 in 1920 to 5,000 in 1930 to 7,000 in this year. According to the North Dakota State Highway Department, the significant increase has been due to improved roads.

Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

Because North Dakotans are driving more miles than ever before, service stations where one can purchase gasoline and have a vehicle repaired have become more plentiful. Gasoline has been selling for between 9 and 19 cents per gallon, and a regular automobile tune-up costs about $3. Shops that sell car and truck parts, both new and used, have sprung up in most communities.

Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

With the very darkest days of the depression over, the North Dakota Automobile Association reports that more and more people are looking at the new cars as they appear in showrooms and sales have improved.

Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change