By Mark Ray
WAR-TIME GOOD TURNS
The BSA responded to dozens of government requests for assistance during World War II, including one from the War Production Board to stop collecting waste paper. The problem: The Scouts had done too well, and there was no place to store the 300 million pounds of paper they had collected.
In June 1942, Time magazine reported that “everything the 1,500,000 Boy Scouts and Cubs undertake reaches astronomical statistics of success.” For example, Scouts collected 10.5 million tons of scrap aluminum in 1941—88 percent of the total collected by all Americans.
TEAM OF RIVALS
In its earliest days, the BSA wasn’t the only Scouting organization on American soil. Others included the American Boy Scouts (later called the United States Boy Scouts), the Boy Scouts of the United States, the National Scouts of America, the Peace Scouts of California, the Polish National Alliance Scouts of Chicago, and the Rhode Island Scouts. The YMCA and Salvation Army also ran their own Scouting programs.
By the time the BSA received a federal charter in 1916—and thus protection of its name, badges, and emblems—most of these groups had dissolved or merged into the BSA. However, it took a 1918 New York Supreme Court decision to put the United States Boy Scouts out of business. The Salvation Army, meanwhile, received a special charter from the BSA to run the Salvation Army Life-Saving Scouts of the World, which lasted until the 1930s in the United States but persisted for decades in other countries.
The most famous member of a non-BSA Scouting organization was George S. Barton of Massachusetts. In 1911, he founded Boys’ Life magazine, The BSA purchased it the following year.
DOING THE DERBY
In early 1953, 10-year-old Cub Scout Donn Murphy of Manhattan Beach, Calif., decided he wanted to compete in the Soap Box Derby. There was just one problem: You had to be 12 years old to enter. That meant Boy Scouts were welcome, but Cub Scouts were not.
Donn’s disappointment inspired his father and Cubmaster, Don, to create a Cub Scout-size alternative to the Soap Box Derby. Not just for Donn, but for all the members of Pack 280C. Murphy and other pack dads, many of whom worked with him at North American Aviation, assembled racing kits in brown paper bags, each consisting of a block of wood, two wooden axles, four nails, and four wheels. While the Cub Scouts turned these kits into cars, the adults built a 32-foot, two-lane track—complete with an electrical finish line—on which the cars would race.
And so the first pinewood derby was held May 15, 1953, in Manhattan Beach’s Scout House, a building still in use by Scouts.
Before long, officials at the national office in New Jersey heard about the pinewood derby. Boys’ Life published plans for pinewood derby cars in 1954, and packs across the country were soon scheduling annual races.
Murphy told his story in a 2001 book called Simply Pinewood!. He had a cameo in the 2005 film Down and Derby, a comedy about an ultracompetitive pinewood derby in an Arizona Cub Scout pack. Don Murphy died in 2008. His obituary, in the Torrance, Calif., Daily Breeze, was titled “Father of the Pinewood Derby.”
THE D.C. JAMBOREE
Many participants in National Scout Jamborees since 1981 have enjoyed side trips to Washington, D.C. For participants in the very first jamboree, however, the city was the destination.
The 1937 National Scout Jamboree—delayed two years because of a polio outbreak—took place literally in the shadow of the Washington Monument. A temporary arena stood between the monument and the White House, while headquarters tents stretched west toward where the World War II Memorial now stands. Campsites filled much of the open space south of the Lincoln Memorial and on Columbia Island. The Jefferson and Korean War Veterans memorials both stand on former jamboree campsites.
Not surprisingly, the Scouts took full advantage of their surroundings, visiting every monument, memorial, and museum in sight. More than 22,000 traveled to Mount Vernon on crowded cruise ships, nearly 20,000 toured major public buildings, and 22,807 attended the Washington Senators’ three-day home series against the Boston Red Sox. To mark Independence Day, jamboree representatives laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (there was just one unknown soldier in those days).
Despite the urban setting, the jamboree featured plenty of traditional Scouting activities, including archery, semaphore signaling, and log rolling in the Tidal Basin. The jamboree also inaugurated some enduring traditions, including the daily Jamboree Journal, trading posts, national exhibits, merit badge symposia (foreshadowing the Merit Badge Midway), and elaborate campsite gateways.
Perhaps the most impressive gateway was a striking replica of Springwood, President Franklin Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, N.Y. Roosevelt himself inspected the gateway when he stopped by the jamboree, inaugurating yet another jamboree tradition: presidential visits.