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Boy Scout Troop 6
(Bellingham, Washington)
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"One aim of the Boy Scouts scheme is to revive amongst us, if possible, some of the rules of the knights of old."
 - Robert Baden-Powell

A Brief History of the Boy Scouts of America

The Beginning of Scouting

Scouting's history goes back to the turn of the 20th century to a British Army officer, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. While stationed in India, he discovered that his men did not know basic first aid or the elementary means of survival in the outdoors. Baden-Powell realized he needed to teach his men many frontier skills, so he wrote a small handbook called Aids to Scouting, which emphasized resourcefulness, adaptability, and the qualities of leadership that frontier conditions demanded.

After returning from the Boer War, where he became famous by protecting the small town of Mafeking for 217 days, Baden-Powell was amazed to find that his little handbook had caught the interest of English boys. They were using it to play the game of scouting.

Baden-Powell had the vision to see some new possibilities, and he decided to test his ideas on boys. In August 1907, he gathered about 20 boys and took them to Brownsea Island in a sheltered bay off England's southern coast. They set up a makeshift camp that would be their home for the next 12 days.

The boys had a great time! They divided into patrols and played games, went on hikes, and learned stalking and pioneering. They learned to cook outdoors without utensils. Scouting began on that island and would sweep the globe in a few years.

The next year, Baden-Powell published his book Scouting for Boys, and Scouting continued to grow. That same year, more than 10,000 Boy Scouts attended a rally held at the Crystal Palace; a mere two years later, membership in Boy Scouts had tripled.

American Origins

About this same time, the seeds of Scouting were growing in the United States. On a farm in Connecticut, a naturalist and author named Ernest Thompson Seton was organizing a group of boys called the Woodcraft Indians; and Daniel Carter Beard, an artist and writer, organized the Sons of Daniel Boone. In many ways, the two organizations were similar, but they were not connected. The boys who belonged had never heard of Baden-Powell or of Boy Scouts, and yet both groups were destined to become Boy Scouts one day soon.

But first, an American businessman had to get lost in the fog in England. Chicago businessman and publisher William D. Boyce was groping his way through the fog when a boy appeared and offered to take him to his destination. When they arrived, Boyce tried to tip the boy, but the boy refused and courteously explained that he was a Scout and could not accept payment for a Good Turn.

Intrigued, the publisher questioned the boy and learned more about Scouting. He visited with Baden-Powell as well and became captured by the idea of Scouting. When Boyce boarded the transatlantic steamer for home, he had a suitcase filled with information and ideas. And so, on February 8, 1910, Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America.

The "unknown Scout" who helped him in the fog was never heard from again, but he will never be forgotten. His Good Turn is what brought Scouting to our country.

After the incorporation of the BSA, a group of public-spirited citizens worked to set up the organization. Seton became the first Chief Scout of the BSA, and Beard was made the national commissioner.

The first executive officer was James E. West, a young man from Washington who had risen above a tragic boyhood and physical disability to become a successful lawyer. He dedicated himself to helping all children to have a better life and led the BSA for 32 years as the Chief Scout Executive.

Scouting has grown in the United States from 2,000 Boy Scouts and leaders in 1910 to millions strong today. From a program for Boy Scouts only, it has spread into a program including Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturers.

The fact that a boy is an Eagle Scout has always carried with it a special significance.

The award is a performance- based achievement whose standards have been well-maintained over the years. Not every boy who joins a Boy Scout troop earns the Eagle Scout rank.  This represents more than 2.25 million Boy Scouts who have earned the rank since 1912.

Nevertheless, the goals of Scouting—the mission of the BSA, citizenship training, character development, and personal fitness—remain important for all Scouts, whether or not they attain the Eagle Scout rank.

To earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest advancement rank in Scouting, a Boy Scout must fulfill requirements in the areas of leadership, service, and outdoor skills. Although many options are available to demonstrate proficiency in these areas, a number of specific skills are required to advance through the ranks—Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. To advance, a Boy Scout must pass specific tests that are organized by requirements and merit badges.

Merit Badges

Merit badges signify the mastery of certain Scoutcraft skills, as well as helping boys increase their skill in an area of personal interest. Of the 134 merit badges available, 21 must be earned to qualify for Eagle Scout.

Of this group, 13 badges are required, including First Aid, Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, Citizenship in the World, Communication, Cooking, Personal Fitness, Personal Management, Camping, and Family Life. In addition, a Scout has a choice between Emergency Preparedness and Lifesaving, Cycling, Hiking, and Swimming, and Environmental Science and Sustainability.


While a Life Scout, a Scout plans, develops, and gives leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, school, or the community.  In addition to providing service and fulfilling the part of the Scout Oath, “to help other people at all times,” one of the primary purposes of the Eagle Scout service project is to demonstrate or hone, or to learn and develop, leadership skills. Related to this are important lessons in project management and taking responsibility for a significant accomplishment.

Famous Eagle Scouts

  • Neil Armstrong, First man on the moon
  • Stephen G. Breyer, Associate justice, United States Supreme Court
  • Steve Fossett, World record holder, first person to circumnavigate Earth solo in a hot air balloon
  • Bill Gates, Sr., CEO of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates
  • James A. Lovell, Jr., Retired U.S. Navy officer, former astronaut
  • The Honorable Richard G. Lugar United States senator, Indiana
  • J. Willard Marriott Jr., Chairman and CEO, Marriott International
  • H. Ross Perot, Founder of Perot Systems Corp., former presidential candidate
  • Mike Rowe, Host of “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel
  • William S. Sessions, Former federal judge, former director of the FBI
  • Steven Spielberg, Academy Award-winning film director
  • John Tesh, Recording artist and performer
  • Togo D. West Jr., Former United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs

100 Years in Review, 1910-2010

Key Dates


Boy Scouts of America incorporated


First Boy Scout Handbook published


Boys' Life premiered


First Eagle Scout, Arthur R. Eldred


Scouting magazine premiered


Registration of Scouts began, 25¢ annual fee


Order of the Arrow began


Federal charter granted by Congress


First season at what would become Northern Tier High Adventure Base


Boy Scout membership tops 1 million


Cub Scout program began


Philmont donated to the BSA


First BSA Wood Badge course taught


First Pinewood Derby® held


Webelos program added to Cub Scouting


Exploring program began


Florida National High Adventure Sea Base officially opened


Tiger Cubs program added to Cub Scouting


1 millionth Eagle Scout, Alexander M. Holsinger


Learning for Life program began


Venturing program began


100 millionth member registered


2 millionth Eagle Scout, Anthony Thomas




Total Cub Scouts


Total Boy Scouts/Venturers


Total Youth Served


Total Adult Volunteers




Total number of merit badges awarded


Top 5 merit badges awarded**


  •  First Aid


  •  Swimming


  •  Camping


  •  Cooking


  •  Citizenship in the Community


Eagle Scout Awards


William T. Hornaday Award (since 1914)


Honor Medal (since 1923)


Honor Medal With Crossed Palms (since 1924)


Silver Buffalo Award (since 1926)


Medal of Merit (since 1945)


Distinguished Eagle Scout Award (since 1969)


Heroism Award (since 1977)


National Certificate of Merit (since 1989)


*Local Council Index, including multiple registration

Interesting Facts and Figures


Chief Scout Executives


BSA National Presidents


Scouts and Scouters who have attended Northern Tier


Scouts who have attended Philmont


Scouts who have attended Florida Sea Base


National Jamboree Attendance (as of 2005)


Scouts who have become astronauts


Norman Rockwell works with Scouting themes


Joseph Csatari works with Scouting themes