“To Tell The Truth” was a popular television show back in the 1960s. Three people were introduced, all using the same name, and the show host would tell what was noteworthy about the “real” contestant; the other two were impostors. The celebrity panel asked questions to determine who was telling the truth and who the impostors were. We might need to recreate that scenario to unravel the mystery of the origin of the FFA emblem.
But you might say “There is no mystery – the FFA emblem was created at Virginia Tech in the 1920s.” That is true for the constitution, ceremonies, bylaws, etc. (FFA at 25, 1956) but is it true for the emblem? There are at least four individuals from three different states who claim to have been involved in developing the FFA emblem. So who is telling the truth?
In a letter to the Seneca (IL) FFA dated June 28, 1998, Charles Keigwin, a school board member and former student at Walnut High School (IL), wrote about a Walnut student who was in a design contest to create an FFA emblem (no date was given). The student Ward Fisher, came up with the ear of corn idea according to Keigwin. A copy of that letter is available.
A colleague from Nebraska sent me a note on Sept. 14, 2018 that stated “I have been told that one of the ladies who worked in the Nebraska Dept. of Education when the FFA was still in discussion stages, was in on the conversation. Later went home and sketched the ear of corn with some of the items we currently have in the emblem.” I have heard others from Nebraska communicate the same narrative.
George Taylor of Smith Hill, Virginia developed an emblem. In 1927 the Agriculture Division of the American Vocational Association sponsored an insignia contest. Mr. Taylor submitted an entry and was one of three winners from Virginia. According to Bryant (2001, p. 53) “Taylor claims to have drawn an owl, plow and rising sun inside the outline of a web…He said the web represented how agriculture played a part in all aspects of life.” Taylor received an “Award of Honor” certificate in December of 1927.
Conventional wisdom has it that Henry Groseclose and his graduate student, R. W. Cline (later head of Agricultural Education at the University of Arizona) developed the FFA emblem at Virginia Tech.
So will the “real” creator of the FFA emblem please stand up? Who is telling the truth or is it possible they are all telling the truth? Let’s start our quest for the truth at Virginia Tech.
In FFA at 25 (P. 14) it is stated that “Groseclose originated the name, produced the constitution and by-laws….developed the emblem…which was almost identical with that of today.” Here is the emblem that was developed for the Future Farmers of Virginia.
Do you think it is almost identical with the emblem of today? While the FFV emblem provided the nucleus for the FFA emblem it might be a slight stretch to claim it to be almost identical!
Coming up with this emblem for the FFV was a challenge. Groseclose and Cline worked on a number of sketches. They looked to see what emblems other agricultural, youth or education organizations used. There were attempts to have the Horn of Plenty in the emblem. Other ideas focused on a lamp of knowledge. None of the ideas worked.
Little progress was made until 1927. Groseclose obtained information about a young farmers organization in Denmark. Among the materials was a photograph of an owl perched on the handle of a spade. The field had been partly spaded. See the image to the right.
Using this photo for inspiration, a plow was substituted for the spade and a rising sun was placed in the background. The major point of contention was should the plow be sitting on top of the ground or be in the ground. This emblem was then adopted by the Virginia agriculture teachers at the summer conference in 1927 for the Future Farmers of Virginia (FFV). A document produced by R. W. Cline in 1954 that describes the emblem creation effort can be downloaded.
So, how did the FFV emblem morph into being the FFA emblem?
At the American Vocational Association (AVA) Convention in December of 1926 a Federal Board of Vocational Education official responsible for vocational agriculture, J. A. Linke, expressed the need for a national insignia for vocational education in agriculture. He showed possible designs (AVA News Bulletin, 1927). Apparently, there was some type of vote taken (see next paragraph). However, it was decided that an insignia committee was needed and five people were appointed to the committee (one from each region) with Linke being the chair.
The next mention of the Insignia Committee appears in the Report of the North Atlantic Regional Conference held in New York in February of 1927. The following resolution was introduced (p. 113).
Whereas the representatives of vocational agriculture assembled at the annual meeting of the A.V.A. at Louisville had little time to deliberate or consult with art critics on the matter of a design for a national insignia for vocational agricultural pupils, and
Whereas the design adopted at said convention has not met with unanimous approval and has been severely criticized by authorities on design: Be it
Resolved, that the National Committee be requested to arrange for a national contest for a design for a national insignia, with the recommendation that they consider the offer of Mr. M. W. Welch, of $100 to be awarded in prizes for the contest, and that the judges of the contest include at least one competent critic on design.
It would be interesting to see the awful design that prompted the resolution. I have scoured all issues of the AVA News Bulletin published between 1926-1930 to find more information about the insignia and insignia design contest but find nothing other than there was a committee. However, there is evidence that such a contest was conducted during 1927. The Mr. Welch identified in the resolution was the owner of the W. M. Welch Scientific Company of Chicago (and apparently they wanted to produce and sell the insignia. They did so later). More later.
In 1928 at the four regional Agricultural Education conferences there was considerable discussion of establishing a national student organization. The consensus from each region was that a national organization was needed. At the Southern region, it was suggested the FFV emblem be adapted. The North Central Region requested the Federal Board for Vocational Education copyright the name “Future Farmers” and recommended “That national insignia be adopted. This may be the insignia which is now being worked on by the national insignia committee.” (Ross, 1942, p. 539) The Pacific Region recommended the Chief of the Agricultural Education Service of the Federal Board proceed to draft a constitution and bylaws for a national organization along with national colors, slogan, and emblems.
During the summer of 1928, the Agricultural Education employees of the Federal Board for Vocational Education worked on a tentative constitution, bylaws, ceremonies, colors, and emblem for the national organization. Two individuals, including Groseclose, from Virginia were consulted during the process. They even went ahead and incorporated the Future Farmers of America (in Virginia). In the fall the tentative plans for the organization were sent to all the states along with a call for the first national convention to be held November 20 in Kansas City.
Two days (Nov. 18) before the first convention the Trustees met and decided to recommend to the delegates the following amendment to the proposed constitution “that the insignia of the organization be the owl, the plow, the rising sun, surmounted by the eagle grasping the coat of arms of the United States and a bundle of arrows, with the letters F. F. A. across the central part of the emblem and the words Vocational Agriculture in small letters inserted at the base of the kernels of corn.” (Minutes, FFA Board of Trustees, p. 8). I do not have a copy of the proposed constitution, so I don’t know what was previously listed as the insignia that needed to be changed.
Here is how the FFA insignia is described in the first FFA Manual (1929-30, p. 36): Article IX, Insignia, Section A. The insignia of the Future Farmers of America shall be made up of four symbols, namely, the plow, representing tillage of the soil, the basis of modern agriculture, the owl, representing wisdom; (3) the rising sun, representing progress,, and (4) cross section of an ear of corn, representing common agricultural interests, since corn is native to America, and grown in every State, The insignia shall carry the three letters “F.F.A.” and the national key shall be surmounted by an eagle with shield, arrows, and olive branch, emblems shall be uniform for all States. Below is an image of the emblem from the first FFA manual:
If you look at the manual description carefully, you will notice the eagle was to appear only on the “national FFA key” (American degree). One can find numerous images of the FFA emblem minus the eagle. In Volume 1, Issue 9 of the Agricultural Education magazine there is a feature about FFA news. Here is the header for that page. You will notice the eagle is missing from the emblem. The first FFA jackets did not have the eagle on the emblem.
So how did we get from the FFV emblem to the FFA emblem? My theory is that some of the entries in the national design contest in 1927 were combined with the FFV emblem to create the FFA emblem that we recognize today. The AVA Agriculture Division Insignia Committee was chaired by Mr. Linke who was employed by the Ag Ed Service of the Federal Board for Vocational Education. So it would be easy for him to make these suggestions in the summer of 1928 when the federal leadership was working on the plans for the FFA.
My hypothesis is partially based on this report from the 1928 AVA Convention (Ag Ed Magazine, 1929):
“There was considerable discussion of the report of the Committee on Insignia headed by J. A. Linke, agent of the federal board for the Central region. This report was unanimously accepted so that the approval of the body is given to the button selected as a result of the Welch competition of last year. The Future Farmers’ button, chosen at Kansas City in November, varies from this one only in that F.F.A. is inscribed on the front…”
So the claim from Mr. Keigwin about Ward Fisher from Walnut, Illinois designing the FFA emblem could be true as could the Nebraska claim. Emblem elements from both individuals could have been incorporated into the final design of the FFA emblem. I discounted the student from Virginia because his design looked a lot like the FFV emblem.
If any of the readers of this Footnote have additional information about how the FFA emblem was created, please share it. I have had to work hard at connecting the dots.
Past Friday Footnotes can be found at https://footnote.wordpress.ncsu.edu/
- Use this worksheet from Troy White to have your students build the FFA emblem.https://communities.naae.org/docs/DOC-21963-ffa-emblem-cutout-worksheetdotx
- You could stage a new FFA emblem design contest to see what the students would create today.
- There is a very impressive ceremony that I have seen performed at conventions and banquets where the FFA emblem is built. It involves several FFA members who assemble an emblem as they talk about the meaning of each component. Unfortunately, I do not have the script or directions for how to do this but I am sure some reader of this Footnote does.
Bryant, B. W. (2001). History of the Virginia FFA Association (Dissertation). Blacksburg: Virginia Tech. https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/26640
FFA at 25 (1956). National FFA Organization.
FFA Board of Trustees Minutes (1928). https://archives.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/2450/6494/minutes_1928.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
FFA Manual (1929-30). https://drive.google.com/open?id=1hlz2hu-XultRizbiuQ39Fm-BHD9jmTk8
Report of Tenth Annual North Atlantic Region Conference (1927), Misc. Bulletin 830. Federal Board for Vocational Education.
Report of Some of the Sectional Meetings (1927, February). American Vocational Association News Bulletin. P. 24.
Ross, W.A. (1942). Future Farmers of America. In Stimson, R. W. & Lathrop, F. W. (Eds) History of Agricultural Education of Less than College Grade in the United States. Washington: United State Government Printing Office.
The American Vocational Association Convention (1929, January). The Agricultural Education Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1, p. 7.