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February 2004
Springfield, Ohio
 

    Traveling on Interstate 70 west of Columbus, you’ll pass to the south of the city of Springfield. Springfield traces its beginnings to the year 1799, when six pioneer families settled at the intersection between two waterways: Buck Creek and the Mad River. A tavern was established, then a post office, then a grist mill and a distillery. When the National Road reached Springfield, this became boom town, filled with activity as people in their wagons and coaches came through here on their way west.

    Springfield was a population center surrounded by rich farmland, and this combination of city and country helped the city carve a niche for itself: manufacturing farm equipment. In 1856 when Springfield native, William Whitely, invented the combined reaper and mower that enabled farmers to harvest their crops more quickly and efficiently. By the 1880’s, his company was producing 12,000 reapers a year, and Springfield had become one of the foremost producers of agricultural machinery in the world, hosting such companies as the McCormick Reaper Company and International Harvester.

    The farm machinery business ultimately moved west to the corn belt—Illinois and Iowa—and Springfield’s heavy industry shifted to producing trucks and engines. Today, the largest employer in the city is Navistar, whose Springfield plant assembles and paints trucks and school bus chassis.

     If you had been in Springfield, say, about 1880, you could have seen sharpshooter, Annie Oakley’s, first public performance. If you had been here during the early 1900s, you could have seen the Marx Brothers, getting their start in show business. You might have hung out with silent film star, Lillian Gish or comedian, Jonathon Winters. Both grew up in Springfield. If you had lived in Springfield in the year 1900, you could have had your choice of 54 intercity passenger trains that came through here each day. Or during the first decade or so of the 20th century, you might have seen workers test-driving some of the ten automobile lines that were manufactured here including the Bramwell, Brenning, Foos, Trayer-Miller, the Kelly Steam, Russell and Westcott. None of them, however, seems to have done real well. Or if you had lived here in 1966, you could have observed a first when Robert C. Henry became the first African-American to serve as mayor of a major city.

     One more contribution Springfield has made is also linked to its agricultural heritage. The story begins with a man named Albert Belmont Graham, known as A. B. Graham. A. B. Graham was born on a farm in western Ohio, but when he was eleven, the family’s house burned, and his father was killed. The family sought to make ends meet by sewing clothes and offering other domestic services from their home. He then became a teacher and moved to Springfield where he became Superintendent of Schools for Springfield Township.

     A. B. Graham had an idea: to get young people together to learn about agriculture and develop skills for farm living. The first meeting was held in the basement of the Clark County Courthouse in 1902 and attracted about 30 young people. He saw that the young people preferred hands-on learning and working on projects together, and so he decided to form an organization to enable such practical learning. He originally called it the Boys and Girls Experimental Club. Then, the Boys and Girls Agricultural Club.

    The Ohio State University Extension Service noted the success of Graham’s program and expanded it to other agricultural communities. By 1905 there were over 2,000 young people in sixteen Ohio counties participating in Agricultural Clubs. Graham was named Superintendent of Extension of the Ohio Cooperative Extension Service and from that post expanded the clubs statewide. In 1916 the Boys and Girls Clubs officially became the 4-H Clubs. The Ohio groups joined with similar clubs in other states to make 4-H a nationwide organization.

     By the way, the 4 H’s: What do they stand for? Well, originally, there were only 3 H’s and the insignia was a 3-leafed clover. The H’s stood for head, hearts, hands. Then a 4th H was added and the organization’s clover became 4-leafed. That last H stood for hustle. But “hustle” didn’t stand up to the test of time and was eventually replaced by a tamer “H,” that is, health. Well, there's nothing wrong with “health,” but we still like “hustle” better ourselves.

   For more about Springfield and its surrounding communities, see the CD for I-70 West: Columbus, OH to Richmond, IN or I-70 East: Richmond, IN to Columbus, OH

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