February 8th is recognized as the official Anniversary/Birthday of Boy Scouts of America. To help celebrate, we’ve provided a brief overview of the organization’s key milestones (thank you to our SPL, Steve F. for his work on both a comprehensive history summation and a timeline overview that we used for this article).
The scouting concept got its start earlier with General Robert Baden-Powell in the UK. His original book, “Aids to Scouting” was written for military training, but he discovered boys using it to organize their own outdoor activities. He ran a camp for boys at Brownsea Island in 1907 and later rewrote his book, calling it “Scouting for Boys”.
In 1909, William D. Boyce, an American newspaper publisher was passing through London on his way to an expedition & received help from the “Unknown Boy Scout”. This experience was remarkable to Boyce since the scout was unwilling to take a tip for the help that was provided. This event was the catalyst for Boyce to bring the scouting concept home to the USA.
The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated on February 8, 1910. From its start, Boyce focused the Scouting program on teaching self-reliance, citizenship, resourcefulness, patriotism, obedience, cheerfulness, courage, and courtesy in order “to make men”. Early on, Boyce sought to consolidate other educational programs into scouting. The BSA completed the merger of the “Woodcraft Indians” (started by Ernest Seton in 1902) and “Sons of Daniel Boone” (started by Dan Beard in 1905). As part of this consolidation, both Seton and Beard join BSA and help in early development of the program.
In 1911, a Chief Scout Executive was put in place to oversee the expansion and promotion of the BSA. James E. West was the primary executive in charge of developing the BSA – some of his notable accomplishments included:
- Responsible for the first edition of The Official Handbook for Boys
- Expanded the Oath to include “…and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
- Added three laws to the Scout Law
- Served until 1943
In 1912, the Sea Scouts were formed. Sea Scouts focus on water-based activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and rowing. Sea Scouts provides a chance to sail, cruise on boats, learn navigation, and compete in regattas.
In 1915, W.D. Boyce split from BSA to create Lone Scouts of America – a program designed to reach boys who lived in very rural areas who might not be able to participate in a group setting due to distance, etc. However, the LSA later merged with BSA and continues as Lone Scout program today.
Also in 1915, the “Order of the Arrow” (Unami Lodge #1) was created within the Philadelphia Council of BSA at Treasure Island Camp (located in, and sometimes under, the Delaware River). The OA has recognized Scouts and Scouters who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives. It uses American Indian-styled traditions and ceremonies to bestow recognition on scouts selected by their peers as best exemplifying the ideals of Scouting. While started in 1915, it wasn’t until 1948 that the OA was recognized as the BSA’s national brotherhood of honor campers, and became an official part of the Boy Scouts of America.
In 1916, a Congressional Charter was granted to Boy Scouts of America: A congressional charter is a law passed by the United States Congress that states the mission, authority and activities of a group. Essentially, it provides a “stamp of approval”, but without any congressional oversight or control.
During World War One, scouts were active on the home front:
- During the war, radio transmitters were regulated, and Scouts were called to look for unauthorized units.
- Scouts were used as message runners, coast watchers, and were to be alert for men who had not reported for duty.
- Over $352 million of war bonds were sold by Scouts along with $101 million War Saving Stamps.
- They collected fruit pits to be processed into charcoal for gas masks and inventoried black walnut trees for use as propellers and gun stocks.
- The War Garden program was intended for Scouts to raise food at home, but was only moderately successful.
In 1923, the first program for scouts with disabilities was launched
In 1930, Cub Scouts was launched as a program for “younger boys”. It focused on home and community which was a different approach in the USA than overseas Cub Scout programs which were modeled much more closely to the main “boy scout program” (Tiger Cubs were added in 1982 for boys of even younger age)
In 1935, Exploring (Senior Scouting) was introduced which focused on advanced camping and worked on advancement leading to the Ranger Award. Later on, the program underwent various changes:
- In 1949, the Senior Scout Division became the Explorer Division
- In 1969, Co-Ed Explorer Posts created
- 1998, split into Venturing (high adventure) & Exploring (career development) programs
During the 1930s the program saw:
- the First Wood Badge Course offered,
- Mortimer L. Schiff Scout Reservation (NJ) opened as a national training center,
- Philmont Scout Ranch was created,
- the First National Jamboree was held in Washington, DC with 25,000 scouts (1937, postponed from 1935 due to polio outbreak)
- Scouts volunteer at 1939 World’s Fair in NYC as guides
In 1941, the Webelos program was created as a transitional element between cubs and the main boy scout program.
In 1953, the First Pinewood Derby was held.
In 1972, “Leadership Development” was added as a program method, and the “Improved Scouting Program” was introduced as a way to ‘modernize’ scouting (and be more culturally relevant). The program essentially rips out scoutcraft skills from handbook and makes many changes to the advancement program.
During the early 1970’s membership hits its all-time record heights as the baby-boomer generation moves through the programs age band (11 to 17). The resulting drop in membership is felt as the baby boomers leave the program:
- 1972 = 6.5 Million scouts
- 1980 = 4.3 Million scouts
- 2011 = 3.6 Million registered members (appx.)
By 1979, there is a “back to basics” refocus on scout craft, and outdoor skills.
2010 – 100th anniversary of BSA and the launch of Troop 113, FBC of Hackensack.
2012 – 102nd anniversary of BSA.