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Ohio State University Extension


Ohio History of 4-H

4-H Youth Development
Kiersten Heckel, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Tuscarawas County 

The 1800s

In the late 1800s, it was discovered that adults in farming communities were not easily accepting the new agricultural developments from universities. However, young people were found to be more open to new ideas and experimentation and would, in turn, share their results and experiences with adults. This was the first step in building community clubs as a way to be “hands-on” while learning and connecting education to agriculture.

Ohio History of 4-H 

In 1902, Albert Belmont (A.B.) Graham, established a youth program in Clark County, Ohio. In a clip on the National 4-H webpage, Graham was recorded saying that he felt that children were not being “helped in their educational work by their own immediate environment.” In an effort to help fix the problem, Graham, the superintendent of schools in Clark County, recruited over 35 children from 12 schools to join the Springfield Township Boys and Girls Agricultural Club which began on January 15, 1902. These children would meet in the basement of the county courthouse. The intent was to learn more about harvesting, gardening, testing soil samples, knot tying, and the identification of insects and weeds. Research from this club continued well into 1903. Subjects that taught youth to appreciate rural life and its opportunities were encouraged. 

Following the success of this “out-of-school education program,” the Ohio State University devised a plan to aid Graham’s club’s research through the use of the Agricultural Experiment Station and the College of Agriculture. By 1905, over 2,000 youth within 16 counties were participating in similar programs. Thanks to this success, A.B. Graham accepted the position of Superintendent of Extension in Ohio that same year.

4-H in the Beginning

The philosophy of today's 4-H program has not changed much from the early years. The Springfield Township Agricultural Experiment Club: 

  • met outside of school hours and across school district boundaries for the purpose of learning.
  • committed each member to undertake an agriculture related project. (Today, there are over 200 4-H projects, many of which are not agriculture related).
  • learned through scientific experiments and demonstrations.
  • relied on land-grant university specialists as the source of knowledge. Kept records of work accomplished and results achieved.
  • organized clubs and elected youth to fulfill leadership roles.
  • based membership on subject matter interest without regard to race, sex, or economic status.
  • encouraged parents and other community adults to assist in teaching youth.
  • exhibited results to the community with the expectation that adults would learn from the youth's results.
  • recognized achievements of the group through educational trips and merchandise awards provided by local businesses.
  • demonstrated a philosophical commitment to the development of boys and girls through the use of the 3-H’s, as well as the 3 “R’s.”

When Was the 4-H Name and Emblem Created?

In 1916, the Department of Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs work was created in the College of Agriculture at The Ohio State University. The first state 4-H leader was W. H. Palmer. Also that year, four counties hired 4-H Club Agents, 3,650 youth were enrolled in 42 counties, the green and white emblem was established, and project books were initiated. 

The first emblem was designed in 1907 or 1908 by O.H Benson with the help of Jessie Field Shambaugh, both of Iowa, as a three-leaf emblem and the three H’s stood for Head, Heart, and Hands. The fourth H was added later and stood for Hustle. In 1911, the present 4-H design, a green 4-H clover with an H in each leaf, was adopted after O.B. Martin suggested the four H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health at a club leader meeting in Washington D.C. The H’s have been universally used since. 

In 1924, the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs were named 4-H. The 4-H clover emblem was also patented, and the U.S. Congress passed a law to protect the use of the 4-H emblem and name in 1924. 

How Has 4-H Grown?

The First 25 Years (1902-1927) 

  • Clubs were exhibiting at county fairs. County agricultural societies initiated livestock judging contests.
  • 4-H camps were established.
  • “4-H Club Week,” a trip for members to The Ohio State University campus, was established. It was later called “Club Congress,” then “Ohio 4-H Congress.”

The Next 25 Years (1927-1952)

  • “4-H leader” was changed to “4-H advisor.”
  • The state junior fair was established.
  • 4-H council (committee) was established.
  • The Ohio 4-H Foundation was established.
  • The first International 4-H Program was initiated with the first delegate sent to Ireland.
  • By the mid-40s, 4-Hers were involved in war efforts, planting victory gardens, collecting scrap metal, and buying war bonds.
  • 1952 marked the golden anniversary of 4-H in Ohio.
  • By the golden anniversary, over 663,000 people in Ohio had been 4-Hers.

The 4-H Diamond Jubilee (1952-1977)

  • The first state junior leader conference was held.
  • 4-H participation saw 43 percent farm residence, 39 percent rural nonfarm, and 17 percent suburban and urban youth.
  • In 1968, there were 99,570 youth enrolled in 4-H.
  • Over 2,900 youth participated in the 4-H Tractor Certification Program.
  • Over 47,453 youth viewed the 4-H television series, Mulligan Stew, in 1975.

The 4-H Centennial (1977-2002)

  • Counties initiated programs for disabled youth.
  • Ohio 4-H participated in LABO (4-H Japanese Exchange Program).
  • Sea camp, shooting sports, and sports fishing were added as 4-H opportunities.
  • 4-H school programs emphasized science education.
  • CARTEENS, a program conducted for first-time juvenile traffic offenders, was established in 1987.
  • The Centennial of 4-H was celebrated in 2002.


  • In July 2004, Ohio 4-H Agents were re-named 4-H Extension Educators. At that same time, Ohio 4-H went from five districts to three regions.
  • The Ohio Youth Food Animal Quality Assurance Program was introduced in 2005. This program has met the minimum standards of the National Pork Board Youth Pork Quality Assurance Program and also meets the requirements set forth by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
  • Ohio joined Operation Military Kids in 2007 to reach youth from all branches of the military.
  • In 2008, the new $15.5 million Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center opened on campus at Ohio State. This facility was the first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) building on campus.
  • Extension Education and Research Areas were established in 2009.
  • 2014 marked the centennial celebration of the signing of the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension System.
  • As of 2016, National 4-H boasts 611,800 volunteers, 3,500 4-H professionals, and more than 25 million alumni.
  • In 2017, Ohio 4-H had 503,826 individual youth members participating in clubs, groups, and special-interest programs, while 16,074 adult leaders were involved in 4-H programming.  
  • One 1 of every 6 people in Ohio has been, or is currently, involved with 4-H Youth Development Programs either as a member, parent, volunteer, or donor. 

4-H Today

Today, 4-H serves youth from all walks of life in every state across the nation, and continues to thrive and expand. Members in 4-H tackle top issues from global food security to sustainable energy. The 4-H program works hard to improve the nation’s ability to compete in scientific fields and to take on leading challenges of the 21st century, while using most of the original concepts and philosophies from the birth of the program over a century ago. 

Original author: Julie Dalzell, Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development and Chair, Butler County (Originally published in 1999.)


4-H Green Pages. 4-H Advisors Handbook. (1983). The Ohio State University.

4-H History, The Birth of 4-H Programs. (n.d.).

4-H Youth Development & Mentoring Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2018, from

Deel, E. S. (2002). Ohio 4-H: Celebrating 100 Years of Youth Development. Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Company. 

History of 4-H. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2018, from

McCormick, V. E. & R. W. (1984). A B Graham Country Schoolmaster and Extension Pioneer.

National 4-H History Preservation Program (n.d) Retrieved May 28, 2018, from 

Ohio 4-H Youth Development 2017 Statistical Report. (2018). The Ohio State University. 

The Ohio 4-H Agent's Program Book, 3rd Edition. (1994). The Ohio State University.

Program Area(s): 
Originally posted Dec 3, 2018.