As a scout, you might know a lot about Scouting activities — but do you know about the history of Scouts BSA? After reading this article, you will! Believe it or not, the Scouting Movement’s legacy stretches back over 100 years and has evolved tremendously since its founding in 1907.
In this article, I’ll go over some of the biggest milestones in the history of Scouting. While you won’t be tested on this info, it’s good information to know — and you can even share it with your troop as fun trivia! Ready? Let’s dive in! 😀
A Quick Timeline of Boy Scouts History
While the entire history of Scouting could be made into its own college class, first, I’d like to tell you about the most notable events that changed the course of Scouting. Later, I’ll also be sharing some super-interesting stories and facts so that you can gain a better understanding of the BSA’s history!
This article is based on what are, in my opinion, the most important events in Scouting’s history. Sources include the official BSA website, Encyclopedia Britannica, and History.com, along with my own Scouting experiences. Check out those links if you’d like to learn more!
Now, before we get into the cool stories, fun facts, and the finer details of Scouting’s history, here’s a great timeline showing Scouting’s evolution. Give it a quick read, and then we’ll be exploring these points further as we get into the article!
|Year||Pivotal Events In Scouting’s History|
|1907||Lord Robert Baden-Powell officially founds the Scouting movement in the UK. In August 1907, he held a camp on Brownsea Island with 20 scouts to test his idea.|
|1908||Lord Baden-Powell publishes the Scouting for Boys handbook.|
|1910||The BSA is founded in America by William D. Boyce and is modeled after Scouting in the UK.|
|1912||Arthur Rose Eldred becomes the first Eagle Scout.|
|1930||Cub Scouting in the US is founded.|
|1935||Senior Scout programs for boys 15 and older are created, including the Sea Scouts, Air Scouts, Explorer Scouts, and Rover Scouts.|
|1971||Young women are allowed to join the Explorer Scouts as full members.|
|1998||The Exploring program is redesigned and turned into Venturing.|
|2013||The BSA ends its ban on gay members, allowing openly gay boys to officially become boy scouts.|
|2018||The Boy Scouts program name is officially changed to Scouts BSA in preparation for girls joining.|
|2019||Girls can officially join Scouts BSA and even earn their Eagle Scout rank!|
Now that we’ve established a general timeline, it’s time to start learning more about the origins of Scouting. This is great info to share with your troop, so listen up! Afterward, we’ll dive into more recent events in Scouts BSA history so you can get to know about the organization that plays such a significant role in your life. 🙂
Scouting’s Early Years
Credit for starting the Scouting movement goes to English writer and war hero, Lord Robert Baden-Powell. In 1907, Baden-Powell gathered a group of 20 boys and took them to Brownsea Island, where they spent eight days participating in activities like fishing, tracking, and studying wildlife.
This first scout meeting proved to be a major success! In 1908, Baden-Powell published the Scouting for Boys handbook. His ideas — while very novel at the time — spread like wildfire. In two years’ time, there were over 100,000 scouts in the UK alone!
Fun fact: Baden-Powell also cofounded a similar organization for girls called the Girl Guides in 1910. The American version was established in 1912, which later became known the Girl Scouts.
If Scouting started in the UK, then how did it travel across the ocean to the US? Well, we have William D. Boyce to thank for that! You’ve probably heard the tale of the unknown scout in the fog a million times, but this is precisely what inspired Boyce to bring the idea of Scouting to America.
If you’re unfamiliar with this iconic tale, check out this amazing theatrical reenactment (10:43). This is actually the best thing I’ve seen all day, so give it a watch! If you’d prefer the shorter version though, you can skip to the next paragraph.
“The Unknown Scout”
In 1909, businessman and explorer William D. Boyce was visiting London when he got stuck in a thick London fog. He was an American who was unfamiliar with the maze of London streets and couldn’t find the way to his destination.
Out of the thick fog, a young scout approached, asking how he could help. Boyce gave the scout the address, and the young scout led Boyce to his destination. When Boyce tried to tip the scout, the boy declined, stating that he was simply doing his duty, and disappeared into the fog.
This event inspired Boyce so much that he brought the idea of Scouting back with him to the US!
Can you see now how the idea of Scouting was so compelling that scouts are all over the world today? Well, we’re just getting started! In the next section, we’ll talk about how the BSA evolved into a more established entity and ultimately paved the path to greater inclusion. 😀
The Formation of Cub Scouts and the Venture Crew
Soon after the creation of the BSA in 1910 came other forms of Scouting aimed at including more people. You may have heard of some of these programs: Cub Scouting, Sea Scouts, Air Scouts, Explorer Scouts, and Rover Scouts. In fact, you may have been a Cub Scout yourself!
Cub Scouting was founded in 1916, but was originally called “Wolf Cubs.” The theme of both names actually stems from the Jungle Book! It took a while for Cub Scouting to become what we know it as today since many of the ranks — such as Bobcat and Tiger — weren’t introduced until much later.
Scouting fact: While discrimination and segregation was prevalent nationwide until the 1960’s, the BSA was quite inclusive when it came to African-American members. The first Black troop was formed in 1911 in Elizabeth City, NC, and the first Black Eagle Scout was Edgar V. Cunningham, Sr., who received his Eagle in 1926!
Shortly after, the BSA also created the Sea Scouts, Air Scouts, Explorer Scouts, and Rover Scouts. These programs went through many changes over a 60-year period before forming what is now known as Venturing. It’s thanks to these initial programs that Scouting is what it is today!
Growing Pains in Scouting’s History
With a rapidly growing interest in Scouting thanks to the Baby Boomer generation, the Boy Scouts of America needed to further adapt and expand. In order to welcome more scouts into the program, the BSA tried to modernize and expand its offerings.
In these changes occurring from the 1960’s onward, there was less of an emphasis placed on outdoor skills, more ranks were added to Cub Scouting, and merit badges were added/removed. Some of these changes were met with praise, while others were criticized.
Changes Made To The Cub Scouts
Cub Scouts saw the most changes during this phase. The Webelos Badge was introduced to help Cub Scouts transition more smoothly into Boy Scouts. Additionally, the Arrow of Light Award became the highest rank in Cub Scouting.
Fun fact: Initially, only women were allowed to be leaders of Cub Scout dens– they were called “Den Mothers.” It wasn’t until the late 60s when men were allowed to lead, and the title was changed to “Den Leader.”
Merit Badge Changes
One of the most significant events that shaped Scouting into what it is today was a change to how merit badges were earned. Before the 1970s, only First Class rank or higher could earn merit badges. Crazy, right? Now, scouts of all ranks and ages are able to earn merit badges. 😀
During this time, the number of badges required to achieve Eagle also decreased from 24 to the 21 required today. It was only from the years 1972 to 1979 that a total of 24 merit badges were required for Eagle. In 1972, the Eagle-required badges were a little different too! Check them out:
- Personal Fitness OR Swimming OR Sports
- Personal Management
- Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving
- First Aid
- Citizenship in the Community
- Citizenship in the Nation
- Citizenship in the World
- Environmental Science
If you think that’s surprising though, can you imagine what the Eagle-required badges were in Scouting’s super-early days? Well, I’ve got you covered! 🙂 Below is a list of the merit badges a scout was required to earn in order to reach their Eagle rank way back in 1925:
- Athletics OR Physical Development
- Bird Study
- First Aid
- Life Saving
- Personal Health
- Public Health
If you want to see the 13 merit badges required to become an Eagle Scout today, as well as my difficulty rankings for them (and even their hardest requirements), check out my linked article!
Scouts BSA Today
In recent history, the BSA has gone through several changes that have made it a more inclusive place for anyone who wants to experience Scouting. As an Eagle Scout myself, I think this is a great development, as this move allows Scouting to benefit even more people! Here are two big changes:
Welcoming Openly Gay Scouts (2014)
In 2014, the National Council of the BSA voted to lift the ban that prevented openly gay boys from joining Scouting. The vote was 61% to 38%, in favor of lifting the ban, which effectively allowed openly gay youth to participate in Scouting.
A year later, openly gay leaders were even allowed to participate in Scouting. Once this long-time ban was finally lifted, the Boy Scouts of America became an even more inclusive environment than before. But this wasn’t the end of it…
Girls in Scouting (2017)
In the past, Exploring and Venturing were the only ways for girls to participate in a BSA program. In 2017 however, the BSA opened its doors to fully include girls in Scouting! Once the change took effect in 2019, girls were welcome into the BSA as full-fledged scouts, and could even earn Eagle!
This change was obviously met with some pushback. However, Scouting is very important to the girls who have joined, as it’s shown to be a great opportunity to develop life skills and character.
In fact, I have a great article/interview that documents a Girl’s Experience In Scouting that I’d highly recommend checking out if you’re wondering if girls can make good scouts (spoiler: they can!)
For some background, while the Scouting program is open to both boys and girls now, the genders are still separated. Unlike Venturing, there are no co-ed Scouts BSA troops. From the sound of things, allowing girls into Scouting was a very smooth transition.
While the decision to include girls into Scouts BSA has caused quite a bit of controversy, I and many other Scouters I’ve spoken to think allowing girls to join is a great move. Frankly, I’d be happy to live in a world where everyone has learned the positive lessons in Scouting! 🙂
Overall, Scouting has definitely had its fair share of interesting history over the last century. Despite its controversies and criticisms, I doubt that anyone would disagree that Scouting has done a lot of good for a lot of people — and will continue to do so well into the future!
If you enjoyed learning about the Scouting’s rich history, I’d highly recommend also checking any of the following articles if they spark your interest:
- 99 Extraordinary And Creative Eagle Scout Project Ideas
- The Fleur-de-Lis’ Surprising History In Scouting
- The 5 Best Camping Games And Activities For Scouts
- Why Scouts Wear Neckerchief Scarfs (And Their Symbolism)
I hope you found this brief Scouting history lesson as interesting as I did! Thanks for reading, and I’m wishing you all the best on your Scouting (and life) journey. 🙂