The Formative Years for NIFS

1945-1949: Achieving Autonomy and a Name

As head of the Farm Division of the National Safety Council, Maynard Coe invited those individuals working as state farm safety specialists to come to Chicago in April 1945. The list at that time included just three individuals: Randall Swanson of Wisconsin who had been at that post since 1943, W.E. “Bill” Stuckey of Ohio, and Katherine Olmsted of New York. Swanson and Stuckey were both employed by their university extension services, and Olmstead was employed by the New York State Department of Health. The two-day meeting, listed as an “institute for farm safety specialists,” was designed to bring inspiration and knowledge primarily to those three attendees. The program included a discussion of state activities, lectures on farm and home safety topics, and a half-day visit to the Underwriters’ Laboratory.

A second Institute for Farm Safety Specialists was held in Chicago in 1946. Maynard Coe again sponsored the event and assisted in the development of the program. The 1946 meeting again included Swanson, Stuckey and Olmsted along with individuals from the National Safety Council. In addition, two new state extension safety specialists had been added: F.R. Willsey, Indiana and Fred Roth, Michigan.

The third annual Institute was also held in 1947 in Chicago, still with the assistance of Maynard Coe. No firm record is available for this event but an educated guess, based on documents from 1946 and 1948, would indicate that those attending included Swanson, Stuckey, Roth, Olmstead and Willsey.

A 1948 Institute, officially listed as the Farm Safety Specialists Institute, was once again held in Chicago. Attending were extension safety specialists Swanson, Stuckey, Roth and Willsey from previous years’ meetings. A fifth farm safety specialist, Norval Wardle from Iowa, joined the group along with Nan Matson, who apparently replaced Katherine Olmsted from the New York State Department of Health. Also listed as participants were C.L. Hamilton and Marvin Nicol from the National Safety Council.

The two-day 1948 Institute featured a lengthy program of activities, including reports and discussions from the various state extension safety specialists in attendance. Swanson reported on his work with rural one-room schools and 4-H clubs in Wisconsin, Stuckey indicated the progress he was making in the development of county farm safety committees in Ohio, Willsey discussed a farm accident survey he was conducting in Indiana, Roth, reviewed his efforts with 4-H and FFA groups in Michigan, and Wardle talked about the recently established Iowa Farm Safety Committee. Resource people on the program covered topics relevant to the job of safety specialist, and the group once again toured the Underwriters’ Laboratory.

A 1949 Farm Safety Specialists Institute was held in Madison, Wisconsin. No program content is available for this meeting. All the extension farm safety specialists who had attended in the previous year were present. In addition, Glenn Prickett, newly appointed farm safety specialist for Minnesota, attended along with interested people from the National Safety Council. Sketchy correspondence indicates that a county extension agent, Ray Aune of Rochester, Minnesota, was invited to report on his successful county safety activities. Also in attendance were Farm Bureau representatives John A. Lake of Illinois, Grice Sexton of Kansas and W.A. Dickinson of Minnesota. A photo of the participants in the 1949 Institute also shows a farm machinery manufacturer and a representative from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Eduation in attendance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture representative appearing in the photo, according to those present at the time, was a casual observer and had no specific professional tie to farm safety.

The first day of the 1949 Institute was held at the University of Wisconsin, and the remainder of the event then moved to the Amercian Baptist Assembly Grounds at Green Lake to accomodate the families present. This 1949 Institute represented a turning point in the organization and probably was the most significant encounter since the first one in 1945. It was the first institute to be held outside of Chicago, and it was the first time for a farm machinery manufacturer and representatives from the Farm Bureau to attend. This meeting, conducted away from the protective wing of the National Safety Council and planned by the extension safety specialists, indicated an intent to form an independent organization. It also recognized that the farm and home safety problem was of sufficient magnitude and complexity to warrant the inclusion of other shareholders in the problem mainly farm machinery manufacturers, state departments of health, and farm organizations. The experience from this meeting, with a new mix of participants, set the stage for the present-day makeup of the organization.

The first Institute set the pattern for many to follow, not only in content but also in name. A cutline from a 1945 news photo clearly identifies the event as an Institute for Farm Safety Specialists. News releases, reports and other communications on file from the period 1945 to 1951 indicate that all such gatherings were “institutes for farm safety specialists.” In 1952 the word National appeared in the official program.

The evolution of the name from 1945 to present is as follows:
1945-47                  Institute for Farm Safety Specialists
1948-51                  Farm Safety Specialists Institute
1952                        National Farm Safety Specialists Institute
1953-55                  National Farm Safety Institute
1956-61                  National Institute for Farm Safety
1962-Present         National Institute for Farm Safety, Inc.

A second point to consider in establishing the origin of the National Institute for Farm Safety deals with the important factor of autonomy. Ample credit must be given to the National Safety Council’s Maynard Cope for instigating the first meeting and for nurturing the early development of the Farm Safety Institute movement. However, it is a matter of record, established through an exhaustive search of documents and letters and through interviews with some of those on the scene at the time, that from the first gathering, the group desired to be a separate entity and strived for this autonomy in the years that followed. The desired identity of the Farm Safety Institute and the independence that accompanied it were partially achieved in July 1949, when the fledgling group elected to leave Chicago and meet in Madison, Wisconsin. Complete autonomy was finally achieved when the National Institute for Farm Safety was officially incorporated in 1962.