Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson inspired the Youth Tour when he addressed the NRECA Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1957. The Senator 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, beginning in 1957, some of the Texas electric cooperatives sent groups of young people to Washington to work during the summer in Senator Johnson's office, to learn more about government in action. In 1958, rural electric cooperatives 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 youths.

In 1964, NRECA began to coordinate the program 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. The idea has continued to grow and today more than 1,500 young people and chaperones participate every year with over 40,000 students to date participating in the Youth Tour.

NRECA coordinates hotel space, maintains a Youth Tour office in the hotel, arranges to have a full time nurse on duty, and offers film, postage stamps and Youth Tour souvenirs for sale. NRECA organizes educational programs on cooperatives, rural electrification and government. Additionally, NRECA coordinates Youth Day - all Youth Tour participants get together to listen to prominent speakers and complete the day with a dinner dance. NRECA also coordinates a Youth Tour essay contest, boat cruises on the Potomac and theater tickets to one of Washington's professional theaters.