When World War Two broke out, no one believed it would last for very long but as things progressed rationing of all consumer goods was introduced. The biggest problem for Ireland was the fact that the surrounding sea was, literally, a mine-field, and a playground for German U-boats. Imported goods like tea (one ounce had to last a week) became scarce and essentials like oil and coal for our power stations were especially precious.
In 1940 ESB was still promoting ‘Happy Thoughts’ with electrical appliances in the showroom and encouraging industry to switch to electricity. However, due to war time rations coal and oil imports were severely restricted. In addition successive dry summers left water levels low for generation at Ardnacrusha. All of ESB’s advertising moved away from promotion and into conservation. Consumers were asked to switch off during peak hours – ‘If you waste now you will want later’ was the message. Consumers going over their ration of power were disconnected. Spare parts for appliances were unavailable and for a time you could only purchase a new electric fire if you took along the older, less efficient model for replacement – along with your ration book. Paper was rationed during the war years and this was reflected in the advertising with the absence of any unnecessary illustrations.
However despite the economic conditions, the 1940s also saw the beginnings of the ‘Quiet Revolution’, the electrification of rural Ireland. The first pole of the Rural Electrification Scheme was erected in Co. Dublin on 5th November 1946 and the first tentative steps to bringing electricity to the farmer and rural dweller were taken.