The name means "cornflower" and is derived from "dagan", meaning "grain". After the first phase at Umm Junieh, the group and its settlement was simply called Degania, "Alef" being added only after the establishment of the associated kibbutzim of Degania Bet and Gimel. Alef, Bet and Gimel are the first letters of the Hebrew alphabet and carry the numeral values 1, 2 and 3.
Degania Alef was the first kvutza established by Zionist pioneers in Palestine, then under Ottoman rule. It was founded by a group of ten men and two women at a place known in Arabic as Umm Junieh or Umm Juni. Degania Bet was established to the south in 1920.
On May 20, 1948, during the Battles of the Kinarot Valley, in one of the first battles of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the residents of Degania Alef and Bet, assisted by a small number of military personnel, repelled a Syrian attack and succeeded in halting the advance of the Syrian army into the Jordan Valley. During the attack Degania Alef was completely destroyed by the Syrian army. According to a 1949 book by the Jewish National Fund, the village was destroyed following attacks on the neighboring kibbutzim of Sha'ar HaGolan and Masada. The settlers resisted, however, and launched a counter-attack which helped to recover the neighboring settlements. Reconstruction started almost immediately.
In 2007, Degania Alef moved to undergo privatization." Instead of assigned jobs and equal pay under the former communal economy, the reorganization requires members to find employment, live on their income, and allows them to own their homes, but still offers a form of a social "safety net" supplement for members whose livelihood is inadequate to meet their expenses. This move to privatization was chronicled in Yitzhak Rubin's 2008 documentary, Degania: The First Kibbutz Fights Its Last Battle.