The year was 1932. Trouble had knocked at America's door. Poverty was rampant, and people were looking for a leader who would offer sustaining hope. Everywhere the cry was heard: "Is there a man who can give us a new and brighter day?"
That man appeared: Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ran for president by calling for a period of "bold, persistent experimentation" and economy in government. His winsome personality, his radio technique and his promise to promote the best interests of the "forgotten man" caught the imagination of the voters, and he won the election with a margin of over seven million votes.
Then tragedy struck the nation. Just before he was inaugurated, most of the nation's banks closed, millions were unemployed, hunger walked the streets and byways of America. It was the greatest crisis since the Civil War.
Roosevelt met the crisis with courage and action. He set up programs to reform banking, organized social security, regulated the growing and marketing of crops and put millions of people to work in government sponsored jobs.
At last, America was on the road to recovery with the "new deal" Roosevelt gave the people. One of the most outstanding and far-reaching measures was the establishment of the Rural Electrification Association. The purpose of the program was to make loans to farmers' cooperatives, public power districts, private utilities and other agencies to build electric distribution systems.
As the program got underway, the agency began to look for contractors to erect poles quickly and run wire for electricity to be channeled into rural areas.
This is when a Georgian by the name of Roy Richards moved to the front of the line. He offered the lowest bid on a contract to run 108 miles of wire in his native Carroll County. He was asked to meet in Washington with the REA officials.
Richards knew what they wanted. He was only 25 at the time, a rather young contractor. Now that he had firmly placed his foot in the door by landing his low bid, he faced a painful but promising interview.
The flight to Washington was short; but the curious anticipation that flooded his mind must have made the trip seem like a slow boat to China.
Whatever might have been the doubts, the outcome was favorable. He got the job. It was the beginning of one of the greatest manufacturing enterprises in history.
It wasn't long before Richards had his second contract; a 154-mile line in Lamar County. Richards had also strung the wire for the co-op dedication in Barnesville in August 1938. The speaker was President Roosevelt. There was a crowd of 30,000 gathered in the high school stadium.
Roosevelt used the occasion to make a short political endorsement of Lawrence Camp, now running against Senator Walter George. The senator, seated on the platform with the president, was shaken by the remarks of the speaker. Soon there was a roar coming from the crowd of Camp and George supporters.
In the midst of the thunderous noise and excitement, President Roosevelt started to leave the platform without performing the final and most important duty of the occasion: that of pulling the switch to light up the huge REA sign at the stadium and to turn on the electrical current for over 350 families in this area of rural Georgia.
Roy Richards, standing nearby, took action. Like Superman arriving on the scene to save a city from doom at the hands of a villain, Richards pulled the switch himself. The lights went on, and he became the hero of the hour.
This one daring gesture was symbolic of the way Roy Richards progressed in his career of turning on the lights for millions.
Roosevelt had a home in Warm Springs, which became known around the world as The Little White House, his own rustic retreat where he had come to enjoy the restorative powers of the springs. There he spent many of the most productive days of his presidency, and there he breathed his last breath on April 12, 1945.
In his speech to the co-op crowd in Barnesville he told how he had seen the total lack of electricity in the surrounding countryside near his home and of the high cost of electricity for those who did have it. Here in Georgia he began his study of the subject of getting electricity into farm homes throughout the United States.
"So it can be said," Roosevelt declared, "that a little cottage at Warm Springs, Georgia, was the birthplace of the rural Electrification Administration." He had signed the REA executive order at his Georgia home in 1935.
Less than three years from the spectacular event in Barnesville, Roy Richards had strung 3,500 miles of power lines and his small company had become the nation's second-largest REA contractor.
Then came World War II, and nearly all REA construction ended. Richards left his business for the U.S. Army, where he attained the rank of captain. After the war, he returned to find arduous problems in his line of work. The most crippling problem was a shortage of wire; the demand was greater than the available supply.
Richards was not only an entrepreneur but an innovator. His inventive talents focused on current methods. At that time, lengths of aluminum rod were made into electrical wire by welding; these welds often broke, causing problems.
Richards sought a new and better way. And he found it.
With the help of an Italian process he had discovered, he adapted it to his own and created a new, faster and less expensive way of making electrical wire. Overnight he became a world leader in the industry. Methods which had been used for over 75 years were now out-dated and inferior.
Southwire is now the largest and most efficient producer of electrical wire and cable in all North America.
Roy Richards died at age 73. Southwire is now led by his son, Roy Richards Jr.
The secret of Richard's astounding success is traced to a sermon he heard preached by the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale: "Thinking Big." From it, Richards learned that success was an inside job. "I realized," he said, "that my limitations were within myself - there weren't any barriers out there to prevent me from succeeding."
His worldwide empire is a tribute to the truth of these words.