Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson inspired the Youth Tour when he addressed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1957. The Senator and future president declared, “If one thing goes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”
Consequently, some Texas electric cooperatives sent groups of young people to Washington to work during the summer in Senator Johnson’s office. In 1958, a rural electric cooperative in Iowa sponsored the first group of 34 young people on a week-long study tour of the nation’s capital. Later that same year, another busload came to Washington from Illinois. The idea grew and other states sent busloads of young people throughout the summer. By 1959, the “Youth Tour” had grown to 130 students.
In 1964, NRECA began to coordinate joint activities among the state delegations and suggested that co-op representatives from each state arrange to be in Washington, D.C. during Youth Tour week. The first year of the coordinated Tour included approximately 400 young people from 12 states. Word of the program has continued to spread and today, over 1,500 students and over 250 chaperones participate in the Youth Tour every year.
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