The history of the 4-H clover

Learn the history of the 4-H name and the clover emblem.

The green four-leaf clover with a white H on each of the four leaves.
Current 4-H emblem.

For most people, the first thing they think of when someone mentions 4-H is the green clover or the 4-H emblem. The four-leaf clover is a symbol of growth for 6.5 million members and more than 60 million 4-H alumni in the U.S. The emblem has become a familiar symbol to Americans over the past 120 years.

4-H is the youth development program associated with the United States Agriculture Department and based out of 100 land-grant universities across the country. In addition, there are more than 70 independent, country-led 4-H programs around the world. In Michigan, the 4-H Youth Development Program is operated by Michigan State University Extension, which is part of the land-grant Michigan State University.

During the early 1900’s, when the foundation of 4-H was being established, many various names were given to the groups: boys and girls clubs, agricultural clubs, home economic clubs, corn clubs, cotton clubs and canning clubs. The first emblem design used for boys and girls clubs was a three-leaf clover. It was introduced in 1907 by O.H. Benson of Iowa. In 1909, this emblem was used on pins with three H’s, which stood for head, heart and hands.

Around 1908, Benson and others began using a four-leaf clover design. Benson said that the H’s should stand for “head, heart, hands and hustle...heads trained to be useful, helpful and skillful, and the hustle to render ready service to develop health and vitality…”

In 1911, club leaders, in Washington, D.C., adopted the current 4-H design; a green four-leaf clover with a single white “H” on each leaf with the stem facing right. O.B. Martin, of South Carolina, suggested that the 4-H’s stand for head, heart, hands and health to represent the equal training of the head, heart, hands and health of every child. Hustle was removed from the pledge.

The term 4-H was first used in a federal publication written in 1918 by Gertrude Warren. In 1924, boys and girls club work became known as 4-H. Also, in 1924, the 4-H clover emblem was patented. At the end of the 14-year patent term in 1939, Congress passed a law to protect the use of the 4-H name and emblem. The law was slightly revised in 1948. The 4-H emblem and name are protected by Congress from commercial or unauthorized use.

The official 4-H Name and Emblem Use Handbook contains the official rules and details about using the 4-H emblem and name. A rich history has made 4-H one of the most recognized symbols in the U.S.

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