National 4-H Congress, a 4-H tradition for more than ninety-nine years, was originally designed to recognize state and national winners. As the 4-H program has changed to meet the needs of youth today, so to has National 4-H Congress. The event not only recognizes excellence, but also provides an outstanding educational opportunity for 4-H youth.
The history of the National 4-H Congress goes back one hundred years. An educational tour to Chicago was the forerunner to what would eventually become known as National 4-H Congress. This annual tour was held in the Union Stock Yards during the International Livestock Exposition. There, more than one hundred young men and women met to exchange ideas and receive recognition for individual accomplishments and community service.
The number of participants steadily grew, and by 1922, this annual event was designated the National Boys and Girls Club Exposition. This meeting is officially considered the first National 4-H Youth Congress.
Exhibits, demonstrations, and a popular parade became the annual program for 4-H during the International Livestock Exposition. For seventy-three years, National 4-H Congress gave over 100,000 delegates, Extension staff, volunteers, partner representatives, exhibitors, and other friends of 4-H the opportunity to participate in a special event. There was no National 4-H Congress in 1995, but two invitational events were hosted by the Southern Region and Western Region states. The year 1996 saw the rebirth of National 4-H Congress in Memphis under the leadership of the Extension Service–USDA. Memphis was the home of National 4-H Congress until the event moved to Atlanta in 1998.