Everything You Need to Know About the History of the 4-H Club

Cultivate a clover-adorned collection of 4-H Club memorabilia spanning the organization’s 100-year history.

4-H, antiques, collectibles, trophies, ribbons
Brian Woodcock

The roots of 4-H go back to 1902, when small gatherings—known then as “Tomato Clubs” or “Corn Clubs”— sprang up in Clark County, Ohio, and across the Midwest. Inspired by the disconnect between farmers’ traditional methods and universities’ forward-thinking developments, the clubs encouraged youth to adopt more current agricultural and homemaking practices. In 1911, the clover emblem took shape with four H’s symbolizing the clubs’ core education principles: head, heart, hands, and health. By 1914, most clubs abbreviated the principles to “4-H,” and Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which created the Cooperative Extension System under the USDA and officially nationalized 4-H. Since then, 4-H has maintained a strong presence in urban and rural communities, boasting more than 110 partner universities, 3,000 county offices, and six million participants. Kids ages 8 to 18 can get their hands dirty with in- and after-school programming, as well as clubs and camps that hone skills in agriculture, STEM, healthy living, and citizenship. Visit for more info.

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Signs & Banners
4-H
Brian Woodcock

The first 4-H camp was held in 1927 as a national event in Washington, D.C. Camps are now offered in counties and states across the country. Sporty pennants commemorate meetings like the annual National 4-H Congress, which was held in Chicago and briefly in Memphis, Tennessee, before landing in Atlanta in 1998. Other banners celebrate state-level accomplishments, club pride, or the motto, “To make the best better.” The pledge originated in 1927 and remained unchanged until 1973, when the words “and my world” were added to create the pledge known today.

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Books & Manuals
4-H
Brian Woodcock

These bindings usually fall into one of three categories:

SONGBOOKS First printed in 1929, the 4-H songbook has been redesigned through the years, but the melodies remain mostly the same. Some are originals, while others simply put a 4-H twist on classic tunes.

PERSONAL LOGBOOKS Cherished individual record books represent years of hard work and are the hardest to come by because few members part with them due to their sentimentality.

PROJECT BOOKLETS Smaller, more readily available instruction manuals detail specific project requirements and results. California was the only state to officially include hats in its 4-H uniform. The felt toppers date back as far as 1940.

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Buttons & Medals
4-H
Brian Woodcock

Intricate brass and enamel merit pins date back to 1909 and are traditionally awarded upon project completion and program mastery, as well as for attendance, participation, and leader status. 4-H programs run the gamut from rice cookery (really!) and rabbit-showing to aeronautics and dog care, with a more recent focus on STEM areas. Medals were worn but also collected as keepsakes. Eye-catching buttons served as alternate signs of club pride. You can find most of these for .

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Awards
4-H
Brian Woodcock

4-H events have evolved from early-20th-century local corn and cotton contests to organized fairs, shows, and conferences held at county, state, and national levels. Educational trips to prestigious state and national conferences have been coveted prizes through the years, while the trophies and ribbons pictured serve as collectible symbols of excellence in 4-H programs. Common contest areas include public speaking, livestock and horse shows, record book presentations, and various project demonstrations. Older pieces, like the cups shown here, date back to the 1930s and 1940s, and can be worth as much as $150. Easier-to-find rosettes start at around $10. Start your collection at .

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Clothing
4-H
Brian Woodcock

While present-day 4-H doesn’t require uniforms, in the past, these items varied by state and club level. Some clothing items tie to special occasions, and others relate to medal-earning projects. In the 1970s, junior leaders donned striped sheaths made from 4-H dress patterns, while spirited sweaters (like the V-neck here) served as the required wardrobe for a delegate’s trip to National Congress. Some members flocked to just-for-fun pieces like bomber jackets.

Many of these items were generously provided by the North Carolina 4-H History and Learning Center, Alabama’s Jefferson County Extension Office, and the National 4-H History Preservation Program.

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