Junior Achievement (JA) is celebrating its centennial in 2019. The organization was founded in 1919 in Springfield, Massachusetts by business leaders Horace Moses, founder of Strathmore Paper Company, and Theodore Vail, Chairman of AT&T, and with the support of Murray Crane, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. The original purpose of JA was to help teens moving from rural America to the industrial cities gain the skills they would need to be successful adults.
For its first 25 years, JA operated primarily in the Northeastern United States and in a few cities in the Midwest. That began to change after World War II as the organization undertook a national expansion. JA of Central Illinois was founded in 1946. By 1969, JA marked its 50th Anniversary by offering JA programs in all 50 States.
For more than 50 years, the only program available from Junior Achievement was JA Company. This was an after-school program where teens started a business with the guidance of JA Advisors, who were volunteers from the local business community. The teen-run businesses would sell stock, produce a product or service, and, after several months, liquidate and ideally provide shareholders with a return on their investment. At its high point, the JA Company Program reached nearly 300,000 teens a year and the National Junior Achievement Conference (NAJAC), an annual conference at Indiana University, drew more than 2,000 attendees yearly.
In the 1970s Junior Achievement started to offer programs in classrooms during school hours with the introduction of Project Business, a program that introduced middle school students to business concepts, and Business Basics, a program that helped elementary school students gain an understanding of business and money. By the 1980s, JA was bringing Personal Computers (PCs) into high school classrooms for its Applied Economics program. JA was reaching 1 million students a year by the end of the decade.
Though JA’s first international operations started in Canada in the 1950s and the United Kingdom in the 1960s, the organization’s global footprint grew exponentially in the 1990s with expansion in the former Soviet Union, Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. At the same time, in the United States JA launched Junior Achievement programs for all grades, K through 12.
Today, Junior Achievement offers programs in more than 100 communities across the U.S., reaching nearly 5 million students with the support of nearly a quarter-million volunteers, primarily from the business community. Globally, JA reaches more than 10 million students worldwide with programs in over 100 countries.
To help mark the JA Centennial, there are several national events planned in 2019. These include Junior Achievement representatives ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, the release of an hour-long PBS documentary, the launch of a national awareness campaign and a “Junior Achievement Day” celebration at the Eastern States Exposition – aka “The Big E” – in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Junior Achievement was founded.