Our History

Our History

Joe Wheeler EMC - Eighty Years of Power

For anything to stand, it must be built on a firm foundation. Much of Joe Wheeler EMC’s success can be credited to our humble beginnings and the dedication and determination of its founding members. Many years have passed since electricity was first brought to rural Morgan and Lawrence counties, and much has changed. We look to the future as we pay tribute to our past.

Before the formation of Joe Wheeler EMC, private power companies supplied electricity to a few towns and heavily populated communities, but the private power companies wouldn’t build lines to the sparsely settled rural areas because of the implied financial risk. However, the people who lived in these rural areas were the people who could benefit most from electricity. They needed electricity to help do everyday chores like boil water, unload cottonseed, and wash clothing. They needed to be members of an electric cooperative. The opportunity came on March 23, 1937 at an organizational meeting held in Hartselle. Little did they know, it was only the beginning.

Seeking a name of the newly formed cooperative, the first directors suggested honoring former Civil War officer General Joseph Wheeler. The general’s daughter, Miss Annie Wheeler, was not receptive to the idea in the beginning. But, Joe Wheeler Smith of Mount Hope, one of the men determined to bring electrical power to rural homes, figured out how to get around Miss Annie’s concerns. He suggested the company be named after him. With time, the company’s name became associated with Gen. Wheeler. Years later the board honored Miss Annie and stated that is was the intent of the co-op to name the company in her father’s honor. 

W.T. Price of Decatur was the co-op’s first president. The other founding board members were; Joe Wheeler Smith of Mount Hope; D.H. McClellan of Decatur; L.E. Fields of Danville; G.E. Beal of Eva; Homer Stewart of Joppa, A.M. Ellis and E.L. Drinkard, both of Moulton; A.B. Young of Landersville; J.P. Hodges of Hartselle; J.F. Hodges of Hartselle; J.F. Huey of Town Creek; L.W. Gentry of Moulton; and W.A. Toms of Courtland. 

Operations began on October 1, 1937, with only 190 miles of line and 900 members. Total consumption was less than 5 million kilowatt-hours and the cost per kilowatt-hour was $0.225 (residential only). The co-op’s starting capital was a $75,000 loan from the Rural Electrification Administration in 1937. Less than a year later, Joe Wheeler’s long-term debt was $276,490 and its operating revenue was $18,922. The cost of power was $6,142. The amount of power the co-op purchased tripled between 1938 and 1941. 

Our greatest growth occurred between 1947 and 1952. With the end of World War II and the availability of many new electrical appliances, the demand for electrical service grew tremendously. Over 1500 miles of electrical lines were installed in JWEMC’s membership area during those four years and membership rose from 3,469 to 10,490. Today JWEMC is the second largest electric co-op in Alabama, serving more than 43,000 meters. In terms of power sales, we sell more power than any other electric cooperative in Alabama and are the eighth largest electric cooperative in the seven state TVA region. 

After 80 years, Joe Wheeler EMC is still recognized as one of Alabama’s most efficient and progressive cooperatives. We have received the Alabama Rural Electric Association’s safety award year after year and are known as one of the forerunners in technological advancement within the body of Alabama electric cooperatives. Our dedication to community service, honest and dependable employees and visionary management have set us apart as a caring member of the Morgan and Lawrence County communities for 80 years, and we are determined to continue and expand the great relationship we have with our membership. We are just as proud of our past as we are of our goals for the future, and know that together, with our members, Joe Wheeler EMC can make things even better for the people of North Alabama for years to come.