Smithsonian curator seeks one storied FFA jacket

Note: the jacket search is complete. Thank you for sharing your love of youth agricultural education with us. See this post to learn about the FFA jackets that have joined the museum's collection.

Curator Peter Liebhold is collecting your memories of agricultural education and seeks one FFA jacket for inclusion in the upcoming American Enterprise exhibition.

For most Americans, blue corduroy is just a fabric. But for the 2% of the nation with agricultural roots, a blue corduroy jacket means youth education.

Worn as symbol of pride and identity, the Future Farmers of America (now known simply as "FFA") adopted the blue corduroy jacket as the official dress in 1933.

Since then, FFA and other agricultural education efforts have touched the lives of millions of Americans. That is why I'm collecting photos, stories, and, yes, one blue corduroy jacket for the national collections.

But wait. Don't send us your FFA jacket just yet. As a curator, it's my job to be picky—I'm looking for a particularly suitable jacket. Take a look at my criteria below and get in touch if yours fits the bill.

Vocational agriculture instructor J. L. “Gus” Lintner from Fredericktown, Ohio, presented the first blue corduroy jacket to Ohio FFA nearly 20 years after its debut appearance during the 1933 National FFA Convention; the early version of the emblem did not include the eagle. Image courtesy the National FFA Organization.
In this 1968 photo, David McCoy of Fredericktown, Ohio, displays an FFA jacket along with vocational agriculture instructor J. L. "Gus" Lintner. The blue jacket originally debuted at the 1933 National FFA Convention. 

As farming and ranching became more sophisticated in the early 1900s, many organizations (such as FFA, 4-H, and others) sprang up to provide technical and leadership training to youth. The story continues today as these vibrant organizations continue to expose both urban and rural youth to many exciting career paths. This is one of many stories we'll tell in our upcoming exhibition American Enterprise, which opens in summer 2015.

A family bringing in their exhibitions (pig, sheep, poultry) to the annual 4-H Fair at Charleston, West Virginia. Photo by Lewis W. Hine. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. LC-DIG-nclc-04390.
A family bringing in their exhibitions (pig, sheep, poultry) to the annual 4-H Fair at Charleston, West Virginia. Photo by Lewis W. Hine. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As part of the exhibition, we're developing an interactive game called the Farming Challenge. It will show visitors how farmers and ranchers must process a tremendous amount of information from many different sources to be successful. In addition to growing plants and raising animals, successful farmers and ranchers track climatic trends, government regulation, marketing goals, and even political events around the world (for example, civil upheaval in Ukraine affects grain prices in Chicago.)

By making these decisions themselves in the interactive, visitors will learn how much education, planning, and smart decision-making is required to be successful—the cab of a tractor is much like the office of a CEO. Near the game, a display will explain how farmers and ranchers develop these skill sets—and an FFA jacket will help tell this story.

In 1933, blue corduroy jackets were adopted as the official dress of FFA. Fredericktown, Ohio, members arrived at the national FFA convention wearing the jackets. Image courtesy the National FFA Organization.
In 1933, blue corduroy jackets were adopted as the official dress of FFA. Fredericktown, Ohio, members arrived at the national FFA convention wearing the jackets. Image courtesy the National FFA Organization.

While the jacket can be from any era of the FFA, we're looking for one that has all of the qualities listed below. Please make sure that yours fits the bill before getting in touch with me.

  • A great personal story. I want to know who wore the jacket and why it was important to the wearer. Tell me how FFA has had affected your life or career.
  • Good condition. It doesn't have to look new, but it should be free of extensive damage.
  • You must own the jacket. You can't donate it to the museum if it doesn't belong to you. If it belonged to your great grandfather and now belongs to you, that's fine.
  • The jacket must be donated—and that means forever. When objects enter the museum's collection, that's where they stay. We cannot accept a loaned jacket and you should know you won't be getting it back.
  • The jacket will not be on perpetual display. Textiles are especially sensitive to light damage, so we'll be rotating the jackets on display during the time in which American Enterprise is open.

Think your jacket fits my criteria? Then go ahead and get in touch. There are two ways to reach me:

  • Option 1: Share your story of involvement in agricultural education with the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive. At the end of your story, include a note saying that you're interested in donating your FFA jacket and upload a photo of it. (You can also share the story of the your jacket without offering to donate the real thing.) 
  • Option 2: E-mail me at agheritage@si.edu. Make sure to include information about your jacket, the story of the jacket, and the fact that you're willing to donate it. Attach a photo of the jacket to the e-mail.

If I'm interested, you'll hear back from me by e-mail.

A 4H Club member examines a sheep with a Farm Bureau Agent in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Photo by Lewis Hine. Image courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection.
A 4H Club member examines a sheep with a Farm Bureau Agent in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Photo by Lewis Hine. Image courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection.

Want to share an object related to your agricultural education that isn't an FFA jacket? It's possible I'll be interested. Just let me know through one of the methods above.

Peter Liebhold is the chair and curator of the Division of Work and Industry. Get it touch with him via e-mail at agheritage@si.edu or the online archive if you have an FFA jacket that fits his criteria. Again, please don't send us your jacket unless requested. We cannot guarantee that un-requested material will be received or returned.

Posted at 6:30 am EDT in American agriculture,Back to Our Roots

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