Once Upon a Time (08/06/2021)

Most of us have heard the phrase “Once Upon a Time”. For this Footnote, that phrase has a double meaning. One meaning could do with measuring time. We may measure time in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and even years. Typically, some type of watch or clock is used for the first three measurements of time and a calendar is often used for the last four measurements of time.

The start of the school year is time to get events “on the calendar” for the upcoming year. Teachers use a variety of calendars for this purpose, often Google Calendar is the calendar of choice.

However, “once upon a time” there was an “Official” FFA calendar. The “Official FFA” calendar served three purposes – to promote the FFA, earn money for the FFA chapter, and to use in scheduling events. In this Footnote, we will learn about the “Official FFA Calendar.” This is a continuation of the Friday Footnote theme of looking at things that once were but are no longer with us.

Figure 1. The Official FFA Calendar for 1976.

In the Beginning

In 1947 a bank in Virginia requested permission from the National FFA to print a calendar featuring the FFA. The calendar was to be distributed to the local community. This request motivated the FFA to formally explore the idea of having an official FFA calendar. There had been informal discussion among FFA advisors and members about having a calendar previous to this, but the bank’s request spurred the national FFA to action (Tenney, 1977).

The FFA Board of Trustees and the National Advisory Council discussed the idea of having an FFA calendar. The National Executive Secretary (A. W. Tenney) was instructed to contact companies that produce calendars to gather information. After exploring the various options, the Trustees were in favor of awarding a contract to the Osborne Company of Clifton, New Jersey.

At the 1949 FFA Convention action was taken (Proceedings, 1949, p. 21):

The first item of business was the F.F.A. calendar. Executive Secretary Tenney introduced Mr. Frederick S. Wilson, whose company has agreed to produce the calendar. Mr. Wilson discussed the production of this calendar at some length. Meron of Massachusetts moved to accept the idea of adopting an F.F.A. calendar; motion seconded by Burch of Florida and carried.

The contract with the Osborne Company to produce an Official FFA Calendar was signed in 1949. Salesmen for the company would sell the calendars to business firms in communities where there was an FFA chapter. The FFA would receive royalties on the sales. The name of the business firm was printed near the bottom of the calendar under the heading “COMPLIMENTS OF”.

The 1950 Official FFA Calendar had twelve different farm scenes (of which nine were paintings depicting rural America and three were photographs). The text accompanying each image explained one of the twelve objectives of the FFA. I find it somewhat ironic that none of the images were of FFA members and the scenes showed an antiqued view of agriculture. And, unlike other calendars to follow, the cover was primarily text with only four small black and white images. See Figures 2 & 3.

Figure 2. The 1950 Official FFA Calendar from Osborne. Blah!

Figure 3: Inside the 1950 Osborne FFA Calendar. Most of the images were rural landscapes but four images featured farming with horses.

For the 1951 calendar, Osborne commissioned Harold Anderson, a highly regarded artist, to paint the cover illustration. This started a long tradition of having Harold Anderson paint iconic FFA scenes for use on the calendar. The images inside the calendar for each month were actual photographs of FFA members engaged in a variety of activities.

It appears the FFA calendar program was off to a great start. At the July 1952 Board of Trustees Meeting (p. 2):

Mr. Frederick S. Wilson, Vice President of the Osborne Company appeared before the Board and showed a pencil sketch of a proposed painting to be used on the 1954 National FFA Calendar. The painting is to feature a father and son. A number of recommendations were made for improving the sketch. Mr. Wilson explained that the FFA was due a royalty of approximately $7,000 on the sales of the National Calendar during 1951. He said that the check would be sent to the National Treasurer the following week.

Figure 4. The final rendition of the painting used on the 1954 FFA calendar. Painting by Harold Anderson.

At the January 1953 meeting of the Board of Trustees (p. 8) Mr. Hurt of Texas “…stated that there was some skepticism in Texas on the part of agriculture· teachers concerning the sale of the Osborne calendars. He said that if the Osborne Company would put an ad in the Texas Future Farmer, the sales of the calendar would be more than doubled, since more people would become familiar with the calendar.” I don’t know if there was really a concern about the calendar in Texas or whether Mr. Hurt was merely trying to sell ads for the Texas Future Farmer magazine. By 1953 more than 250,000 calendars were sold.

An advertisement for the Osborne Company calendar did appear in the National Future Farmer Magazine in 1952 promoting their 1953 calendar (See Figure 5). It must have been effective. In 1953 the National FFA received $15,603.68 in royalties from the Osborne Company.

Figure 5. Advertisement for the FFA Calendar

 A number of other companies were in competition with the Official FFA Calendar program. In January of 1955 the FFA Board of Trustees minutes show (p. 8):

Miss Elizabeth Copeland, President of the Custom Cal Company, Atlanta, Georgia, appeared before the Board. Miss Copeland. was seeking authorization from the Board to use the name and emblem of the organization on a FFA fund raising calendar. Miss Copeland explained that for several years her company has been serving FFA chapters with a cooperative advertising calendar known as a “Vocational Agriculture” calendar. Now, however, many chapters are requesting the FFA name and emblem be used.

After discussion, the Board approved the request for a three-year period provided the national FFA received 5% of the gross revenues with the states involved getting 15%.

You have probably seen these types of calendars. A number of small advertisements are at the top of the calendar with tear-off months at the bottom. When I was in high school our FFA chapter members sold ads for this type of calendar. I am sure some FFA chapters still do that today.

The National Future Farmer magazine was started in 1952. After several years of publishing experience, the National FFA decided to turn the entire calendar program (production, sales, operation) over to the magazine staff. This decision was made at the July 1955 Board meeting with the understanding that 1958 was the year in which the calendar operations would commence. This was a logical decision since the magazine and calendar could share costs in producing photos for both publications, salespeople could promote both products, the magazine staff was familiar with the FFA, and the sale of calendars could provide additional revenue for the FFA.

The 1958 calendar was the first produced by the FFA magazine staff. The Baumgarth Calendar Company of Melrose, Illinois did the actual printing and shipping of the calendars. Harold Anderson continued to paint the cover illustration. FFA chapters received a 25% commission on gross sales. [Sidenote: It is somewhat interesting to know the most famous calendar printed by Baumgarth was a Marilyn Monroe calendar. Over 9 million were sold).

In 1959 the FFA contracted with the Louis F. Dow Company to print the calendars. A staff artist at Dow (Bill Medcalf) produced the cover illustrations from 1964-1966. In 1967 Arthur Sarnoff was commissioned to do the cover illustrations. He produced the cover illustrations for the FFA calendar for over a decade. Sarnoff’s first FFA calendar illustration is shown in Figure 6. [Sidenote: Sarnoff’s most famous paintings were of dogs playing pool and poker].

Figure 6. The first FFA Cover painted by Arthur Sarnoff.


Interview with Jack Pitzer, Calendar Program Manager

In 1965 Jack Pitzer started working for the FFA magazine and became the Associate Editor in 1966. A major responsibility of the Associate Editor was the calendar program. Jack tells me he probably stuffed a million envelopes with mailings about the FFA calendar. One of his responsibilities was to come up with ideas for the cover illustration. He would often cut pictures from magazines and do paste-ups of possible calendar covers. He would share his ideas and thinking with the artist. At times he was very surprised at how the artist interpreted his ideas. It was not uncommon to ask the artist to make changes.

The 1967 painting was of a FFA convention. It was returned to the artist so he could add some African-American students to the crowd.

The 1971 cover painting was returned to the artist, Arthur Sarnoff, for a revision (See Figure 7 below). In the original rendition, the person digging the hole was the African-American student. There was concern about the message that might send – having the African-America doing the hard physical work. So, the painting was revised. This painting is one of Jack Pitzer’s favorites since it is based on his hometown in Illinois.

Figure 7. The 1971 calendar illustration.
In the original sketch the African-America student was digging the hole.

Every year Jack had to appear before the FFA Board of Directors and explain the plans for the upcoming calendar. At times the discussions were interesting. For 1974 the proposed calendar theme was “Discovery”. The Sarnoff painting (See Figure 7) depicted a classroom with a microscope sitting on a table and the teacher inserted a VCR tape into a machine connected to a television set. There was a female student and an African-America student in the painting. The January 1973 Board minutes state “Considerable discussion was held relative to the theme for 1974. It was decided, however, that no action be taken on this until the group had time to review the proposed ideas for themes.” I don’t know what the concern or discussion was about. However, this theme was adopted and used.

Figure 7. The 1974 Calendar – Discovery.

Mr. Pitzer saw three benefits to the calendar program. It raised good money for the chapter, taught the students how to market and sell the calendar when searching for calendar sponsors, and was a good public relations tool.

Calendar Types

There were basically three styles of FFA calendars. The most popular style was the home and office style. It was a wall calendar and contained 12 pages  – one page for each month. For each month there was a photo of an FFA/Agricultural Education activity at the top. The bottom was a grid of days with enough room in each grid to write “sow was bred” or “dentist appointment 4 PM” in the grid (See Figure 8).

Figure 8. Home and Office Calendar Style (Note: to conserve space the bottom part of the calendar was cropped. It did have all 31 days.

The second style was called the folding poster style. It was the largest of the calendars and had one image at the top that was displayed all year and the bottom of the calendar had tear-off pages for each month.

And finally, there was a foldable tent calendar called the desk calendar. It folded up to form a triangle. There were small tear-off pages for each month that contained photos. The backside of the triangle had a message about the FFA along with an image (See Figure 9).

Figure 9. The bottom 1/3 of this image was folded under to serve as the base and the other two sides were folded to form a tent-like structure. The painting was from Bill Medcalf.

During Jack’s tenure, he was responsible for developing the vinyl wallet style calendar/calling card.

An advertisement in The National Future Farmer in 1963 offered a package deal to FFA Chapters for the 1964 calendars. A chapter could get 50 home and office calendars, 10 poster calendars, and 25 desk calendars for $30.

The Calendar Paintings

During my tenure as a teacher educator at North Carolina State University (1989-2017) I often took students on field trips to the National FFA Center in Alexandria, Virginia. I also served as a consultant to the FFA Board of Directors in the mid-1990s. So, I was in the FFA Center in Alexandria on numerous occasions. During one trip to the National FFA Center, I was searching through the attic for some historical materials when I came across the original Anderson and Sarnoff paintings that had been featured on the calendars. They were stacked against a wall covered with a sheet. I couldn’t believe such beautiful and historic paintings were relegated to the attic.

I inquired about why these paintings were in the attic instead of on display throughout the center. I was informed that the Chief Operating Officer of the FFA at that time thought the images were outdated and portrayed the FFA in an unfavorable light. That is why they were not on display.

If you were to visit the National FFA Center in Indianapolis today, you will find these paintings on display in various locations throughout the Center. Also, the Supply Service has prints of 15 of these calendar illustrations for sale. They are sold in three sizes. The large size is not cheap but is less expensive than numerous works of art that I possess. They would make great Christmas gifts. The URL for the prints is (https://shopffa.org/cat/208/VINTAGE-ART-PRINTS/). Other images used on the FFA calendars can be viewed at https://indianamemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/FFA/search/searchterm/calendar.

The Demise of the Official Calendar Program

In the late 1980s the handwriting was on the wall. In 1989 the name of the Future Farmer magazine was changed to New Horizons. Shortly thereafter the magazine was outsourced. The FFA calendar program was turned over to the FFA Supply Service. A generic FFA calendar resulted. People were no longer buying calendars. All of these combined to spell the demise of the FFA Calendar program.

Teaching Idea

Show your students some of the calendar illustrations used in the past for the FFA Calendars. Ask them to assume the calendar program was going to be restarted. What ideas do they have for illustrations for the calendar for next year? Tell the students the illustrations should be modern and depict agricultural education/FFA today. See what ideas they come up with. You might even have them create prototype copies of their illustrations to share with the class.


Tenney, A. W. (1977). The FFA at 50. National FFA Organization