September 27-30, 1904 – Ransom Asa Moore, director of the UW-Madison College of Agriculture Short Course, held the first countywide roundup corn show at Richland Center.

1909 – Moore held a youth Short Course on the campus, during the same week as the college-level short course.  25 were in attendance.

1910 – 45 fairs in Wisconsin had corn growing contests.  This year the Short Course had 44 girls in attendance.

1912 – The first county Cooperative Extension agent is hired in Oneida County, marking the beginning of Cooperative Extension in Wisconsin.

Thomas L Bewick WI 4H first state leader

Thomas L. Bewick, first Wisconsin 4-H State Program Leader

1914 – Passage of the Smith-Lever Act by Congress on May 8 made possible the Cooperative Extension Service funded by federal, state and local (county) governments. Cooperative Extension work in agriculture and home economics, including boys’ and girls’ club work, became the delivery system for taking the research of the land grant colleges (in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture) and agricultural experiment stations to farm families.

1914 – On July 1, Thomas L. Bewick was appointed in the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture Agronomy Department to assist Professor Moore in his work with ten thousand or more rural young people throughout the state. On October 1, Mr. Bewick was appointed Wisconsin’s first State Leader of Boys’ and Girls” (4-H) Club Work with the new Cooperative Extension Service.

October 30, 1914 – Linn 4-H club began under the guidance of Thomas L. Bewick, Wisconsin’s first State 4-H Leader.  He served for more than 40 years.

1915 – The first State Fair exhibit of boys and girls club work was arranged at West Allis. Potato, dairy calf and pig projects were featured.

1916 – Wisconsin State (4-H) Club Leader, T.L. Bewick and other state boys and girls club leaders identified green and white as the national club work colors; the four-leaf clover as the club work emblem; and “Not Our Bit, But Our Best” as the club work motto. The first definite and recognized Junior State Fair department was set up in a tent camp.

1917 – More than 26,000 youth enrolled in Extension’s boys’ and girls’ clubs during World War I.

1917 – Elizabeth Amery was hired as Assistant State 4-H Leader.  She was the first home economist on the staff.  This was a part of the war effort. Her members worked under the pledge: “My Head, my Heart, my Hands and my Health for food production and conservation, to help with the war and the peace.”  The first year each member was to preserve five pints of fruit and five pints of vegetables.  The next year it was ten pints each.  They had to keep records, make an exhibit and teach others the cold pack method of preserving food.

1917 – Boys and girls club members participated in the first annual junior livestock exposition sponsored by the Wisconsin Live Stock Breeders Association.

1918 – First State Club Week (State 4-H Congress) was held at the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture in Madison.

1919 – The first 4-H Leaders Handbook was issued.

1920s 4-H garden harvest

Young people stand outside in back of piles of what appears to be the fruits of an autumn harvest. C. 1920-1929. UW-Madison Archives e in back of piles of what appears to be the fruits of an autumn harvest. C. 1920-1929. Identifier S07a548.

1919 – Wisconsin boys and girls clubs participated in the U.S. Garden Army to boost the production of food for defense during World War I.

1920 – The 4-H motto was changed from “Not Our Bit, But Our Best” to “Make the Best Better.”

1920 – The State Club Staff issued the original Wisconsin volunteer 4-H leaders handbook.

1921 – First Extension agent employed and paid by the county to work with boys and girls club programs was Wakelin McNeel in Marathon County. Businessmen and leaders of agricultural organizations established the National 4-H Service Committee as a non-government organization to help further the 4 H movement through private support.

1922 – First National 4-H Club Congress held in Chicago.

1923 – A few part-time paid county leaders hired.

1924 – 4-H is recognized as the official name for Extension boys’ and girls’ clubs.

1924 – The first home economics judging team sent to Club Congress.

1924 – Geneva Amundson of Trempealeau County took top honors in the first National 4-H Dress Revue at National Club Congress with a red woolen dress she made herself.

1925 – The first 4-H club camps established in Wisconsin in Shawano and Rusk Counties, and in Langlade and Marinette Counties a year later.

1925 – 14 different projects offered with an enrollment of 32,948.

1925 – Staging of the first state 4-H Girls Dress Revue at State Fair.

1926 – County leader organizations began forming, adopted unified programs and began holding county leadership training meetings.

1927 – First full-time county club agents appointed by Cooperative Extension with federal funding to do primarily youth work included: C.J. McAleavy, Marathon; Bruce Cartter, Marinette; and Ben Hauser, Milwaukee.

1927 – Wisconsin sent delegates to first National 4-H Club Camp (National 4-H Conference) in Washington, D.C.

1928 – First three school forests dedicated in Forest County.  28 county club agents hired on a temporary summer basis.

1929 – First statewide drama contest at the State 4-H Club Week.  Forty plays from nine counties with the 4-H Boosters of Marinette County as the winner.  They put on “Early Ohios and Rhode Island Reds”.  They also performed at the National 4-H Club Congress.

1929 – Wakelin McNeel and Verne Varney inaugurated the first series of weekly radio sketches over WHA.

1929 – Helen Haldiman of Green County won the Thomas Lipton cup for achievement.  Later she became the Douglas County Home Agent.

1930 – Club work was a part of every county agent’s program.

1930 – Professor Ransom A. Moore was made an honorary member of Wisconsin 4-H during a ceremony dedicating the 4-H Club Knoll set aside by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents near Agricultural Hall on the University of Wisconsin Madison Campus.

1932 – More than 4000 members went to 16 different 4-H camps.

1933 – State club staff member, Wakelin “Ranger Mac” McNeel, initiated “Afield with Ranger Mac,” a weekly feature for schools on radio station WHA.

1934 – There were 3 or 4 county based gatherings to help local planning of programs, judging, demonstrations, music and drama.

1937 – Six counties hired club agents.

1937 State Fair Clothing Display

At the 1937 Wisconsin State Fair, a group of girls who are 4-H members pose in the clothes they made as part of their club activities. UW-Madison Archives S05847.

1938 –State 4-H enrollment reaches 30,877—largest number to this point. Dairy and Field Crops are the most popular projects. Nearly 10,000 girls enroll in the clothing project.

1939 – 25th anniversary of 4-H.  75 leaders honored by the state for 10 to 21 years of work.  Oscar Hafs and May Hatch of Walworth County honored for 21 years, Ella McCarthy of Dane County and Mrs. Jennie Heifferman of Rusk County honored for 18 years.  Three others well known for their work were recognized: Veva Divan of Green County, George Price of Kenosha County and Frieda Justman of Shawano County.

1940 – First 4-H camp in southwest Wisconsin is held at Wyalusing State Park in Grant County. 60 4-H’ers from Grant and Crawford Counties attended.

1941 – Elizabeth Upham Davis and Caroline Upham Keene chose to memorialize their parents, Horace and Mary Upham, by giving 310 acres of land near Wisconsin Dells to the University of Wisconsin to be used as a nature laboratory and youth camp. Wakelin McNeel (Ranger Mac), Assistant State 4-H Club Leader, was instrumental in procuring the land, to be known as Upham Woods, for use by 4-H clubs and other people cooperating with the University.

1941 – There was a war defense emphasis in 4-H posters, bulletins and over WHA radio.  County agents had a heavy defense emphasis.  Local leaders had to do most of the 4-H leadership.  Over 1000 4-H members (boys) joined the armed services.  Over 8,000 girls worked in the fields.  Victory gardens were emphasized.

1942 – For wartime service and victory projects members collected 5,616,000 pounds of scrap metal and 559,000 pounds of paper and rags for salvage use.

1944 – Enrollment dropped, but only by 1,000.  The drop was mainly in the older age brackets…the boys were in the service.

1946 – Wakelin McNeel was the State 4-H Leader.  30 counties had 4-H Club Agents.  59 Home Agents helped with projects.

1947 – Wisconsin 4-H club enrollment reaches 36,486 members: 18,200 boys and 18,286 girls. The first 4-H Health camp was held at Green Lake.

1947 – Farm safety activities were popular — 14,000 members took part in farm hazard inspections, speaking contests, leader training, and trip awards.

1948 – Wisconsin Association of Extension 4-H Agents was organized.

1949 – Teams from 50 counties gave daily demonstrations at the State Fair – along with dress revues, chorus, marching bands, citizenship ceremony, tractor operator contest, booth displays and calf shows.  New projects were health, music, drams, citizenship, religion, stewardship of natural resources and home improvement.

1950 – Clover leaf pins and certificates were awarded to Wisconsin pioneer club leaders according to years of service.

1951 – Wisconsin initiated its participation in both the outbound and inbound phases of the International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) Program. Eldora Keske of Milwaukee County 4-H, Lois Linse of Buffalo County 4 H, and Burton Olson of Vernon County 4-H were Wisconsin’s first IFYE Representatives to travel abroad. Four youth came to Wisconsin from Germany, Finland, France and Belgium.

1952 – The Wisconsin 4-H Leaders Council was organized.  Members represented the eight supervisory districts.

1953 – Wisconsin 4-H Club Foundation was approved by University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and incorporated in 1954 to help finance club work in special areas and to supplement state appropriations and other funds. The Foundation supported Upham Woods, IFYE, adult and junior leader training, awards, scholarships and trips.

  • Past Presidents included:
    • James Murphy, who was the Walworth County Agriculture Agent in 1915 and then owned Murphy Products first in Delavan and then in Burlington
    • Walter Renk from Sun Prairie, farmer and grain dealer
    • Arlie Mucks, Barron County Extension agent, animal husbandry specialist, and Assistant Agriculture Program Leader
    • Ed Parminter, Dodge County 4-H Agent, Milwaukee County 4-H Agent, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.

1955 – Federal funds received to experiment in urban 4-H.

1955 – Fifty-nine counties participated in the first annual presentation of the Wisconsin 4-H Key Awards.

1956 – A group of Wisconsin 4-H leaders and county agents meeting in Sheboygan in April recommended that club work be made available to every boy and girl in the state; that urban clubs be planned as project clubs; that all club work in a county be one unified program; that advisory committees by chosen for urban areas; that suitable projects for urban areas be explored and developed; and that club bulletins refer to 4 H as a program for all youth, urban and suburban, village and farm.

1956 – Wisconsin Junior Leaders Council formed during State 4-H Week in Madison.

1957 – The University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture was the midpoint assembly for 176 International Farm Youth Exchanges (IFYE) from 40 counties before they went to their next host families. Photography and floriculture were popular additions to the project listing.

Brown County Service Award 1958

The Briggs 4-H Club in Brown County accepts an award for a Community Improvement Program in 1958.

1958 – Wisconsin followed the national 4-H recommendation and changed graduation from 4-H from 21 years of age to 19 years of age.

1959 – There were 12, 344 adult leaders and 2,315 urban members.  Of the latter, 1,875 were from rural non-farm homes.   A Wisconsin room at the National 4-H Center in Washington, D. C. was furnished in memory of T. L. Bewick, Wakelin McNeel and J.A. Craig.

  • Thomas L. Bewick was a song writer and State Leader.  He arranged “Sing Your Way Home” for 4-Hers and was part of the Squeaky Hinge Quartet.  That included Verne Varney, C. J. Chapman and R. E. Vaughan.  Bewick wrote songs and lyrics for various events.
  • J. A. Craig of Janesville paid the expenses for four young people to National Club Camp for many years.  He made the fairgrounds available at cost to Rock County 4-H and the Livestock Associations.  He was an original inspirer of the Wisconsin 4-H Foundation.  He was director of the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club work for 22 years.  He set up a loan fund for Rock County 4-Hers.  A cabin at Upham Woods is named in his honor.
  • Wakelin McNeel (Ranger Mac) had weekly sessions on WHA radio for 21 years.  The school forest movement mainly came from his love of trees.  At one point there were 300 school forests, especially in northern Wisconsin.  They were nature classrooms.

1960s – 4-H programs are introduced in several of Wisconsin’s urban centers, including Milwaukee.

1960 – The 4-H Band and Chorus performed at the State Fair for three days.  They went on to the State Teachers Convention in Milwaukee and the State Extension Homemakers Conference and then toured four counties.  46 counties were involved with drama productions.  There were 14 district drama festivals and one state drama festival.

1962 – Wisconsin observed the 50th anniversary of 4-H club work. At the time, some 50,000 club members and 60 county 4-H club agents worked actively alongside 12,000 volunteer leaders.

1963 – The first 4-H agent training workshop on urban 4-H programming was held.

1963 – Attention was given to opening 4-H to all sectors of society with special focus on youth from urban areas, minority youth, low-income youth, and youth with developmental disabilities.

1963 – As 4-H began reaching out to non-farm and special audiences, the number and variety of 4-H project offerings grew. Dog, exploring 4-H, knitting and small engines were among the projects added at the State level.

1966 – The use of television in transmitting 4-H programs also served as a means for introducing 4-H in the schools. Early programs included: 4-H T.V. Action Club (emergency preparedness), 4-H T.V. Science Club, and 4-H T.V. Photo Fun Club. The first annual Wisconsin State 4-H Horse Show (now WI State 4-H Horse Expo) was held in Madison.

1967 – The 4-H program officially became known as the State 4-H Youth Development Program.

1969 – Wisconsin 4-H initiated its involvement in the federally funded Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program as another way of reaching previously unreached groups.

1970s – Options for participating in 4-H expanded significantly during the 1970’s. In addition to the traditional full year 4-H club, special interest, short term, and mini 4-H (for those under 4-H age), groups came into being.

1970s – The idea of life skills was introduced in 4-H programming. The life skills of learning how to learn, relating to others, relating to change, using science and technology, mental and physical health, communicating, decision making, and managing resources, placed emphasis on the 4-H member and his/her development. Greater emphasis was placed on the individual rather than the product or achievement.

1970s – Face-to-face judging was introduced at county fairs as a way of improving the educational value of evaluating project exhibits.

1970s – As 4-H continued to reach new audiences, the number and variety of 4 H projects also continued to expand with such projects as aerospace, snowmobile, veterinary science, bicycle safety and crocheting. In the latter part of the 1970’s such projects as caged birds, cavies, tropical fish and horseless horse were also added at the state level.

1970s – Cultural arts projects and activities had much influence on the increasing enrollment of 4-H youth. The number of youth in art and crafts projects grew from 11,365 in 1972 to nearly 21,000 in 1979.

1970s – Wisconsin 4-H Adult Leader Council spearheaded a campaign to raise $70,000 in support of a major building program at the National 4-H Center in Washington, D.C. With all county 4-H programs participating, Wisconsin 4-H met its goal and paid its pledge in 1973.

1970 – A state historical marker commemorating the first organized boys and girls (4-H) club in Wisconsin after passage of the federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914 was dedicated. The historical marker is located in Linn Township, Walworth County.

1971 – The first State 4-H Reach Out Group performed at State 4-H Congress. The group used music and drama to explore teen issues and concerns.

1971 – First time Wisconsin 4-H had teens participating in the International 4-H Youth Exchange to reflect the shift in 4-H population from strictly rural to include rural, rural non-farm, and urban youth.

1973 – “… And My World” was added to the close of the national 4-H pledge originally adopted in 1927.

1973 – New federal urban funds added second 4-H youth agent and staff assistant positions in more populated counties, resulting in youth program expansion. A variety of new program models (day camps, special-interest clubs and short-term project clubs) helped 4-H reach more urban youth, at-risk youth, and youth of color.

1974 – Wisconsin joined with other states nationwide in rejecting a national committee recommendation to discontinue the 4-H motto, “To Make the Best Better.”

Mid-1970s – Home and Family projects focused more attention on consumer education and less on technical skills.

Mid-1970s – In response to national concerns for energy conservation, Wisconsin 4-H developed a Home Energy Education Program to help 4-H families learn more about energy use and conservation.

Mid-1970s – Extension youth staff members were placed at the Milwaukee Zoo and Wehr Nature Center to expand outreach program models.

Mid-1970s – The national Civil Rights laws brought about the formation of 4-H Expansion and Review committees to examine current youth demographics and 4-H participation trends and make recommendations for future programming. Based on this information, staff developed active plans to expand 4-H programs to underserved audiences. Staff became conscious of how to plan and conduct programs in non-discriminatory ways.

Mid-1970s – There was strong emphasis on developing county level volunteer committees to set program direction, and plan and run county events. Some counties started project area key leader systems.

1976 – History and Heritage 4-H Projects were very popular with Wisconsin 4-H members and clubs as they joined in the celebrating of America’s Bicentennial. The “Family in 4-H” slide/tape program and the home helper concept in working with 4-H members were introduced to reinforce the role of family in 4-H.

1980 – The first statewide volunteer leader training workshop for Horse project leaders was held at Upham Woods. Other projects initiating statewide leader training workshops during the early 1980’s included: dairy, dog, clothing, nutrition and photography.

1980 – At the 1980 4-H Staff Development Workshop, a building block approach to developing curriculum materials was identified. At this time, 4-H curriculum was described as the impact 4-H has on youth within a specific content area and includes everything participants experience in that 4-H project.

Early 1980s – The “whole child” was the key phrase in the statement on 4-H youth development in Wisconsin. Rich variety in learning experiences offered 4-H members opportunities to participate in programs that related to the historical four “H’s”: Head – thinking and learning, solving problems, making decisions, and setting goals; Heart – caring, determining values, respecting and supporting one another; Hands – using new skills to create, build, design, or shape; Health – forming attitudes, habits and life styles that enhance physical and mental well-being.

Early 1980s – “Taking Care: A Way of Life” represented a revised approach to 4-H health projects and activities. The literature encouraged family involvement in decision-making activities that focused on life styles.

1981 – The Adventures in Dairyland project was introduced for youth interested in learning about dairying without owning an animal.

1983 – For the first time in its history, Wisconsin 4-H reached over 100,000 young people: 53,859 in 4-H clubs; 46,772 in short-term special interest programs; and 13,244 in other programs.

Mid 1980s – There was an increase in staff attention to community youth development, resulting in more cooperative work with other youth-serving agencies.

1985 – Emphasis on the total family in 4-H was strengthened with the introduction of the Family Times program.

1985 – The first annual State 4-H/NJHA Horticulture Day was held at UW-Experimental Farms, Arlington.

1986 – Wisconsin 4-H was awarded a major grant through the National 4-H Council and the W.K. Kellogg Foundations to strengthen volunteerism in the state’s 4-H program. The “Volunteer Force,” a group of 22 4-H Volunteer leaders from throughout the state, was involved in training other volunteers to accept responsibility for 4-H program management roles.

1989 – The Extension Service celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act. The 4-H program hosted an anniversary conference at the Concourse Hotel in Madison, April 29-30.

1989 – UW-Extension Family Living Specialists developed the Teen Assessment Project surveys. 4-H Youth Development and Family Living staff members teamed with specialists to tailor the survey to the interests and needs of a local community. The survey response helped the community understand how they could support positive youth development and discourage problem behaviors.

1989 – The Youth Futures program was initiated in Wisconsin communities to bring together coalitions of educators, parents, community leaders and youth to develop comprehensive actions plans to address youth issues.
1990s –  Youth empowerment became a part of on-going work, resulting in greater youth participation in county and state level decision-making groups. Collaboration with other groups such as school systems, non-profits, United Way and human service departments and agencies greatly increased.

1990s – School-aged child care programs increased. New programs were developed based on needs identified through child care surveys. 4-H Youth Development staff developed and adapted 4-H curriculum for child care staff to use with 6-12 year olds in after-school programs, day care centers and family day care homes.

1993 – At a National 4-H Curriculum Conference, a plan was introduced for integrating the experiential learning cycle into the 4-H Curriculum Handbook.

1994 – A very successful North Central Animal Science curriculum development effort evolved into what is now the 4-H Cooperative Curriculum System (4HCCS). By 2001, this cooperative system has produced over 150 curriculum products and includes 39 member states. Staff from Wisconsin were involved in the creation of both the National 4-H Curriculum Criteria as well as served in leadership positions with 4HCCS.

1994 – The “Youth at Risk” and “Children and Families at Risk” initiatives merged. The same year, “State Strengthening grants from the CYFAR funds began providing intensive staff development efforts across the nation.

Mid-1990s – Volunteer risk management grew as a concern resulting in a mandatory youth protection system involving volunteer background checks, training, and signing of a behavior agreement.

Mid-1990s – There was greater emphasis on community youth programming. Staff position descriptions were revised to reflect this expanded program direction.

Mid-1990s – The number of home-schooled youth in 4-H increased in many counties.

Late 1990s – State-level support for community youth programming increased through grants and hiring of additional youth development specialists.

Late 1990s – There was a renewed focus on civic contributions of 4-H groups via Public Adventures, community service grants, and evaluation of efforts.

2000s – 4-H Technology projects are developing along with web pages and programs that help the youth work in our global high tech world.

2000s – Extension sets up new partnerships with the University system to provide additional resources for the clubs and the local communities.

2000s – Mini-society and other entrepreneurial programs are established, helping youth understand the world from a financial standpoint.

2000s – State 4-H Adult Council organizational structure evolves to include one delegate/county or nation who attends an annual statewide meeting. At the annual meeting, an executive board is selected which meets throughout the year. The purpose of the State 4-H Adult Leader Council is to enhance 4-H Youth programming at local, county and state levels.

2000s – State 4-H Youth Leader Council evolves their structure to annually elect two youth/district for a two-year term at the State 4-H Youth Conference.

2000s – Partnerships were increasingly developed with local schools, neighborhood centers and community organizations to provide 4-H in after-school settings. “Century 21” funding encouraged schools to partner with community organizations to provide additional after-school opportunities for youth in lower income neighborhoods.

2000s – Some 4-H Youth Development staff members are involved in establishing Teen Court in their county.

2002 – Wisconsin and national youth development “conversations” were held to celebrate the National 4-H Centennial. The centennial celebration culminated with a report to the President.

2002 – Joseph Albert Craig, Rock County 4-H volunteer, inducted in to the National 4-H Hall of Fame.

2002 – Wakelin “Ranger Mac” McNeel, Wisconsin 4-H Assistant State Club Leader and Upham Woods Superintendent, inducted into National 4-H Hall of Fame.

2009 – State Wisconsin 4-H STEM specialist Catherine Vrentas designs the 4-H National Youth Science Day experiment, Biofuel Blast. Tens of thousands of youth around the country took part in the experiment which was designed to teach about renewable energy sources.

2011 – Tamara Koop, retired 4-H Youth Development educator in Waukesha County, inducted into National 4-H Hall of Fame.

2012 – Jim Barthel, retired 4-H Youth Development educator in Green and Winnebago Counties, inducted into National 4-H Hall of Fame.

2013 – Wayne Schroeder, retired 4-H Agent in Richland and Portage Counties, inducted into National 4-H Hall of Fame.

2015 – Linda Kustka, retired 4-H Youth Development Volunteer Leadership Specialist, inducted into National 4-H Hall of Fame.

2016 – Kathleen Vos, retired 4-H Youth Development Specialist inducted into National 4-H Hall of Fame.

2019 – Donna Menart, retired Sheboygan County Agent and Associate State 4-H Youth Development Program Director, inducted into National 4-H Hall of Fame.