The National FFA Center in Indianapolis is home to a display of old-fashioned FFA jackets, figments of the organization’s rich history that can be cherished and celebrated during National FFA Week, which is scheduled Feb. 16-23.
The National FFA Center in Indianapolis is home to a display of old-fashioned FFA jackets, figments of the organization’s rich history that can be cherished and celebrated during National FFA Week, which is scheduled Feb. 16-23.
INDIANAPOLIS — Here at the National FFA Center on the northwest side of Indianapolis, the day-to-day business and life of agriculture can slip by without notice.

It can be easy to overlook the amount of time that has passed since a former FFA member wore one of the antique jackets now on display in the glass case at the entrance of the spacious building.

“The design of the jacket is just so neat, the way they captured the owl in the FFA logo before the sun has risen,” said DeLoss Jahnke, an FFA communications specialist, who marveled at the old-school, hand-sewn design of one particular jacket, situated next to another jacket with a curious arrow design around the pockets that looked to be of the same era.

Both of them wore an emblem that is gone from today’s jackets, “Vocational Agriculture,” and replaced with “Agricultural Education.”

“Some of the blues may have faded a bit and may look different from decade to decade, but to think of thousands of these jackets being worn by students at the convention each year, signifying that they’re part of something a lot bigger than themselves, is amazing,” Jahnke said.

A former member of the Riley County FFA in Kansas, he helped organize a fashion review last year to showcase the common thread of the blue jacket throughout the evolution of the organization and give employees who were not members of FFA a glimpse into the jacket’s important journey.

“The blue jacket is such a strong part of our history, and the jacket and emblem are such an important part of our brand,” Jahnke said.

“When you hear people talk about FFA and its members, many times you’ll hear about the blue jackets. For a lot of former members, the jacket is a real symbol of pride.”

The jacket on display in the lobby from Fredericktown, Ohio, has strong historical significance because it was in Fredericktown that the FFA jacket was born.

In 1933, a man was walking by a hardware store there and noticed a blue corduroy jacket with a bulldog embroidered on its back in the window. The owner of the store connected him up with the Universal Uniform Co. in Van Wert, Ohio, where the jacket was made.

The adviser bought a few of the blue corduroy jackets from Universal and put his chapter’s name on the back using gold thread. The group then headed to the 1933 national convention in Kansas City.

The jacket was such a hit that the official delegates at the convention voted to make it a part of the official attire.

That man was Gus Lintner, the adviser of the Future Farmers of America, which has changed its name to FFA, but whose national blue and corn gold symbol remains as bright as ever.

Jahnke said the jacket’s form has changed with the goals of the FFA, noting that a painting displayed at the National FFA Center depicting agriculture in the 1950s shows FFA members working in the field in their jackets.

Today, the official FFA jacket is fully functional and designed to be worn for official FFA functions only.

Jahnke said the FFA has made a diligent effort to keep the jacket as affordable as possible, though funding challenges between chapters continue. While the jacket of 1933 cost $5.50, today’s jacket costs about $50.

The jacket has changed in several other ways since its younger days. Vintage jackets had snaps instead of zippers, embroidered emblems rather than sewn-on patch emblems and square pockets instead of rounded ones.

The fabric is 100-percent cotton, which is shipped as raw cotton to China for weaving and dyeing and to Vietnam for cutting and sewing, he added.

The Universal Lettering Co. emerged from the farm debt crisis of the 1980s following the Van Wert Co.’s struggles, reclaiming lost clientele and growing into a state-of-the-art production facility that once again produces the official jackets worn by FFA.