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National 4-H Supply Service

The National 4-H Supply Service was launched in 1925 by the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work as a central, non-profit source of supplies, furnishing members and leaders with the pins, labels and stickers they needed to foster a sense of belonging and public awareness of the 4-H movement.

Although the Supply Service has always been a leader in providing items bearing the 4-H emblem, 4-H items show up in photos even before the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work was organized in 1921. The below advertisement shows up in the September 1919 (Vol. 1, No. 9) issue of "Farm Boys and Girls Leader and Club Achievements," a monthly publication issued by E. T. Meredith, publisher, Des Moines, Iowa.

The National 4-H Supply Service's very first item was a color poster of the 4-H clover which had gained support through the efforts of Gertrude Warren and other extension leaders as the insignia of boys and girls club work.

   Ad from Sept 1919 Farm Boys & Girls Leader

Sale of the poster and other items helped defray the cost of producing a booklet of songs, rituals and facts about club work and available 4-H supplies. This "Handy Book of Club Work" gave a much needed assist to leaders and members. The Handy Book was sent free to state, county and local leaders on request - one copy to each person. Additional copies for use by 4-H clubs cost 3 cents per copy. Some 25,000 copies of the first 24-page booklet were produced in 1925, and featured 26 4-H items for sale through the Supply Service.

Even this first effort displayed the variety of selections the National 4-H Supply Service has been known for throughout the decades that followed. It included a felt skull cap, aprons, armbands, 4-H and U.S. flags, pennants, 4-H stationery, banners, party favors, 4-H stickers, tags, shields and buttons.

The July 1925 National 4-H Club News carried notice of a paper hat, 4-H tags and a 4-H flag being offered through the Supply Service The very first order was for 20 dozen 4-H club paper hats, ordered by Alex R. Moffat, County Extension agent, Donnellson, Iowa, on July 20, 1925.

Selection of items for the Supply Service became a testing grounds over the next couple of years and some items gained immediate popularity and continued to remain in the offering of the Supply Service year after year, while other items showed up in one catalog, never to be seen again in future offerings.

Crepe paper hats and sashes and crepe paper fringe, 4-H jewelry, canning equipment (Burpee Home Can Sealer and Burpee Pressure Cooker), official 4-H uniforms, trophies and prize cups, silverware and musical instruments, even 4-H egg cartons, were some of the product lines offered during the first 5-6 years of the Supply Service operations. In 1927 the first member medal, 4-H pins, and material for girls' uniforms were offered through the Handy Book. In 1928 leadership pins were added.

 1926 Handy Book Cover  1927 Handy Book Cover  1928 Handy Book Cover

While the 1930 Handy Book was promoted heavily as being the New Handy Book especially for 4-H Club Members, with a print run of 100,000 copies and a title of "4-H Club Members Handy Book", the Handy Book for 1931 went back to being primarily for 4-H Club agents and leaders and a title of "4-H Handy Book".

 1930 Handy Book Cover  1937 Handy Book Cover  1939 Handy Book Cover

By 1940 the National 4-H Supply Service was offering 275 items with a total sales exceeding $52,000 and 25-30 orders being received daily.

During the 1940 war years, uniforms for the Women's Land Army were made available, plus Victory Farm Volunteer and Crop Corps items.

In 1950 the Supply Service offered a line of materials and patterns for making United Nations flags.

In 1953 a Uniform and Supply Committee was officially formed to consist of Extension workers and National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work representatives.

By the decade of the 1960s the Supply Service was stocking more than 1,100 items bearing the 4-H emblem. Pins, chevrons and other symbols of membership, flags, banners, medals and trophies, clothing, jewelry, recreation helps, meeting aids and project helps, inspirational booklets and music aids were all included in the catalog. As the National 4-H Service Committee started the decade, 1961 became the 9th consecutive year during which sales increased over the previous year. Much of this progress was attributed to the excellent cooperation of the Extension Service in achieving maximum distribution of the 4-H Supply Catalog. Approximately 70 percent of the total volume of sales was coming from orders placed by the Extension Service and 30 percent from volunteer leaders, members and friends of 4-H during this period.

During the early years of the Supply Service, Guy Noble, Manager of the Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, and other staff, basically operated the Supply Service. Ellen Moberg became Manager in 1937, followed by Mable Smith from 1942 until 1953. Lois Winterberg was Promotion Manger from 1948 through 1959.

Norm Johnson became manager of the National 4-H Supply Service in 1953, a position he held for over three decades. The solid service of providing the supply needs of 4-H during the decades of the 1960s and 1970's can be attributed to the quartet of Norm Johnson, as manager; Bill Snyder, responsible for order processing; Tom Corcoran, marketing and promotion; and John Kuta, order fulfillment and warehouse manager. This team, along with their staff support, provided new product items, a quality catalog, and quality service to Extension agents and 4-H leaders year after year.

The following article provides a good background on the continuing changes of the Supply Service from its beginnings through the 1980's:

"The National 4-H Supply Catalog wasn't always as you see it today - a slick professional mail order publication. "The first 4-H Catalog wasn't really a catalog at all but a pocket-sized Handy Book for the Extension professional and volunteer leader," according to Norm Johnson, vice president of business services, National 4-H Council, and major developer of the catalog for 35 years.

"The first Handy Book, published in 1926, was a fingertip reference that featured meeting suggestions, 4-H facts and hints, prayers and sayings to prepare the user in an instant to give an invocation, speech, tribute or add that special touch to a campfire ceremony. Scattered throughout the Handy Book were related items to purchase.

"To supplement the Handy Book, Extension professionals and volunteer leaders were encouraged to remove full page advertisements from their Club News magazine and save them in a notebook for reference. "This became their supply catalog," explains Johnson.

"Over the next two decades the meeting suggestions were gradually dropped out of the Handy Book while more 4-H products were added until it evolved into a genuine catalog.

"During the early 1950's two catalogs were produced - one for Extension professionals and a separate one for volunteers, leaders and members. The professional's catalog included protected items - those needing Extension Office approval before purchase.

"In the late 1950's these two catalogs were combined into one publication with a separate section for protected items. "This catalog was the forerunner of what we see today," says Johnson.

"In 1986, the listing of 4-H Educational Materials appeared in the catalog for the first time. This improvement made it possible for Extension professionals, volunteer leaders and members to access all products distributed by National 4-H Supply Service in one place.

"And this was the first direct promotion of National 4-H Council Educational Materials to volunteer leaders and members. Until that time, Extension professionals used a separate order form to make requests.

"In 1987, the catalog underwent a major revision in style and format to better serve the Extension System. The upgrade involved the introduction of nearly 300 new or improved 4-H products and a bound-in order form with return envelope. The 1988 catalog was sent out in late August. Its cover features an original illustration of today's 4-H members in action.

"According to Johnson, "The 4-H Catalog was a pioneer among non-profit organization catalogs in using the 4-color printing process." In the late 1950's the black and white catalog changed to full color on the advice of 4-H donor Sears, Roebuck and Co.

"When the National 4-H Foundation and National 4-H Service Committee merged in 1977, National 4-H Supply Service relocated its headquarters to the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Because of the advantage of its central location, the National 4-H Supply Service warehouse remained in Illinois, but moved to more modern facilities in a suburb of Chicago. The order fulfillment operation at the warehouse was then linked electronically to the order entry department in Maryland.

"Today's 4-H Catalog features more than 2000 items bearing the official 4-H emblem. The most popular items over the catalog's history include the classic 4-H T-shirts, 4-H jackets, medals, pins and ribbons. "Items popular 30 years ago are now back again," says Johnson. Items making a comeback include the frisbee, pocket knife and double "pull-apart" key ring.

"Many new product ideas come from Extension professionals or volunteer leaders. Anyone with new product ideas should contact National 4-H Supply Service. New products are developed or selected between October and January.

"While today's catalog doesn't include the same information as the Handy Book of 1926, users find it a terrific source of new ideas for awards, recognition, gifts, program promotion, event management and educational materials...

"And what does the future hold for the 4-H Catalog? National 4-H Supply Service director, Chip Zimmer, says "As we progress into the next decade, the Supply Service will continue to grow to accommodate the ever-changing needs of 4-H. For example, in the 1989-90 catalog, we will offer items from all three associations - NACAA, NAEHE and of course, NAE4-HA. Your ideas and comments are welcomed and are the driving force behind our improvements." (Fall 1988)

 1961 Supply Catalog Cover  1969 Supply CatalogCover  1989-1990 Supply Catalog Cover

In an article in the July 1965 National 4-H Service Committee COMMENTS newsletter, Norm Johnson reported that for the first time in its history, the 4-H Supply Service had run out of catalogs! Although 10,000 more catalogs were printed than the previous year, it was not sufficient to meet the increased demand. A total of 181,650 catalogs were distributed, but there were over 186,000 requests. He added that the 1966 catalog was already in production with distribution in the fall of 1965 to help take care of the demand.

By 1970, The Supply Catalog run was 200,000, featuring 1,100 items - 40 completely new. The new catalog featured almost a full line of new trophies, new wall plaques, pen and pencil sets, and for the first time, offered girls athletic clothes including shorts and tank blouses.

It was reported that the 1977 catalog included 68 new items among the over 1,500 pieces of merchandise carried by the National 4-H Supply Service. The broad range of items carried by the Supply Service is indicated in the partial listing of new items featured in the 1979 catalog - two new stick pins, a spoon bracelet and ring, a bandanna, a porcelain jewel box, a china piggy bank and "antique" pitcher, an outdoor window thermometer, a rain gauge and several new plaques. Similarly, in 1980 the catalog featured a new full-color theme poster for 1980 in a jig-saw puzzle; for nostalgia buffs there was a linen calendar featuring art and a 4-H poem, based on the 4-H pledge, taken from an item sold in the early days of 4-H; the same art work appeared on a 4-H wall mirror; then there was a new craft kit giving 4-H'ers a 4-H emblem made from plastic but having the appearance of stained glass; plus other items including ceramic salt and pepper shakers, a frosted glass candy jar and a bicycle "license" plate.

National 4-H Supply Service revenue in 1989 was 3.27 million dollars. This compares with 2.10 million dollars just three years earlier in 1986. The dollar volume in sales was 1.6 million dollars in 1978... an all time high up to that date.

Adjusting to the Age of the Internet

Beginning in the mid-1990's, the National 4-H Supply Service began to embrace the great potential of the Internet for both marketing and sales. The Supply Service's website, known as the 4-H Mall - - provides opportunities to place 4-H product lines in front of their customers on a continually updated basis... and, through the site's shopping cart, customers can place orders before they even leave the website.

By having an expanded electronic customer database, the 4-H Supply Service can send notices of new items and announcement of special sales out via e-mail as part of an expanded, modernized marketing program.

Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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