1920: The Go-Getter
“And it really works, b’jing!”
In 1920, this quaint phrase served as a climactic moment in Western Electric’s motion picture, The Go-Getter, “a story of new ideas and old prejudices.” The new idea was that power and light could help modernize a rural family farm, saving money and leaving more time for leisure and love.
Questioning the value of electricity is laughable today, but in the early decades of the 20th century, electricity scared those who were set in their ways. So Western Electric used the most newfangled, eye-catching medium of the time—silent film—to win some converts.
The Go-Getter was fictional but based on a widely shared reality. It was set on the real-life Shetrone family farm in Pennsylvania and the synopsis is simple: farm boy Dan returns from World War I and is offered a big-city job but chooses to work on his father’s farm, even though his sweetheart, Dorothy, longs for city life. He finds the farm primitive, but his old-fashioned father is reluctant to join the modern age and all its “labor-saving accessories.”
The film goes on to show the installation of Western Electric power and light and “brings in the interesting and profitable benefits of electric lights, running water and the use of many labor-saving devices made possible with electric current,” the film’s brochure states.
Dan takes Dorothy on a “tour of inspection” after the farm has been electrified, showing her how electricity makes cooking, ironing, washing dishes, and doing laundry easier—not to mention other farm tasks like separating cream and making butter. “This whole outfit will pay for itself in a couple of years!” Dan exclaims.
Darn right. At the end of the film, after Dorothy has left the farm for a brief and unsatisfying stint in the city, Dan sends her a letter that “proves a farm can be run on sound business principles,” along with the first annual statement of the electrified farm that shows both profits and time saved. She returns to the farm, to a life “more pleasant and interesting,” and the couple grows old together in this picturesque setting.
The final title card makes Western Electric’s philosophy clear: “What was accomplished here can be done wherever brains and grit are mixed with a practical desire for betterment.”
On April 23, 1920, The Go-Getter was screened for Omaha employees with plenty of food and dancing and “every one in a fever of joyful anticipation.” The film was well received by the workforce but was probably even more influential with rural customers. Only 24 percent of U.S. homes had electricity in 1917. By 1930, that number skyrocketed to nearly 70 percent. Our company has always changed with the times while helping customers and partners improve their businesses. Today, it’s Graybar’s services and digital innovations—from Just In Time Delivery to SmartStock to PowerSmart energy efficient solutions—that help a new generation of Go-Getters succeed.