10 historic BSA moments every Scouter should know

A trail sign, a footbridge, a favorite campsite — points on a pathway remind us where we have been and help us figure out where to go next.

The Boy Scouts of America has historic landmarks, too. Here are 10 important events along the Scouting trail that made a difference.

1909: William Boyce Meets The Unknown Scout

As legend has it, American businessman William Boyce was walking the streets of London when he lost his way. A boy stepped up and guided him to his destination. Boyce offered him a tip, but the boy explained he was a Scout and that Scouts do not accept payment for doing Good Turns.

Intrigued, Boyce went to the local Scouting office to learn more. He guessed that boys in the United States would like the idea. When he got home, he encouraged supporters to help him incorporate the Boy Scouts of America. On Feb. 8, 1910, the organization was born.

The founders threw themselves into figuring out emblems and uniforms, setting up councils and troops, preparing the first handbook and meeting hundreds of other challenges. Within a year, the BSA was up and running.

1912: First Eagle Medal Awarded

The 1911 Handbook for Boys explained, “Any first-class Scout qualifying for twenty-one merit badges will be entitled to wear the highest Scout merit badge. This is an eagle’s head in silver, and represents the all-round perfect Scout.”

A year later, Arthur Rose Eldred of Troop 1 in Rockville Center, N.Y., became the first official Eagle Scout. The medal he received looked very much like the Eagle pin of today.

Other Scouts soon followed in his footsteps. Over time, Scouting formalized the path to Eagle by developing Star and Life ranks; adding requirements for troop leadership, service, specific merit badges and months of tenure at each rank; and setting an upper age of 18 for completion.

By 1982, 1 million Scouts had become Eagles. The tally passed 2 million in 2009, a testament to the value of the BSA’s advancement method. That number includes Arthur Eldred’s son, two grandsons and several great-grandsons.

1937: First National Jamboree

More than 27,000 Scouts answered the call of President Franklin Roosevelt to join him in July 1937 in Washington, D.C., for the National Scout Jamboree. (The Jamboree was originally scheduled for 1935 to celebrate Scouting’s first 25 years, but the event was postponed because of a polio epidemic.)

A vast encampment of tents surrounded the Washington Monument. Scouts took part in parades, patriotic activities and demonstrations of skills. Newspaper, magazine and radio coverage helped spread the word that Scouting had come of age as a vital organization for American youth.

Over the past 80 years, more than 780,000 Scouts have attended 20 National Jamborees, held roughly every four years at sites in Pennsylvania, California, Colorado and Idaho — from 1981 through 2010 — at Virginia’s Fort A.P. Hill before moving to a permanent home in West Virginia in 2013.

This first gathering helped celebrate the opening of the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. Building upon that experience this past July, thousands of Scouts joined together to celebrate how the same key principles from 1937 — character, citizenship and service — continue to enrich individual lives and communities through Scouting today.

1939: Philturn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp Opens

Waite Phillips was never a Scout. Even so, when the oilman decided in 1938 to donate nearly 36,000 acres of his northern New Mexico ranch to the organization he believed was best suited to use the land to provide growth experiences for young people, he chose the Boy Scouts of America. His generous gifts included the Villa Philmonte, the Phillips family’s magnificent summer estate, and the Philtower Building in Tulsa, Okla.

Philturn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp swung open its gates in 1939 as 189 Scouts trekked into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Upon seeing the camp’s success, Phillips donated additional land in 1941, bringing the total to more than 127,000 acres. The name was changed to Philmont Scout Ranch, and the property evolved and soon became one of the world’s premier destinations for backcountry adventure.

Each year, more than 22,000 Scouts enjoy the opportunities for growth that Waite Phillips envisioned. Philmont expanded its boundaries again in 1963 with the acquisition of the Baldy Country and in 2015 with the purchase of the Cimarroncita Ranch, bringing the total to just over 140,000 acres.

Surrounding the Villa Philmonte, the Philmont Training Center pulses with challenge, learning and inspiration for adult leaders and Scouts of all ages. In its history, the BSA has had six national high-adventure bases: Philmont Scout Ranch, Northern Tier National High Adventure Program, Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, Paul R. Christen National High Adventure Base at SBR and the now-defunct Maine High Adventure and Wisconsin Canoe bases. (Some also include the short-lived Land Between the Lakes Outdoor Adventure Center in Kentucky and western Tennessee.) Philmont was the first to be recognized and operated as a national-council base.

1949: Exploring Begins

The early decades of the BSA saw the introduction of programs designed to keep older boys interested and involved. Sea Scouting, Senior Scouts, Rovers, Air Scouts and Explorers each had a specific focus beyond what many troops could provide.

In 1949, the BSA consolidated most of these into a new program called Exploring. (Sea Scouting continued to be a stand-alone program.)

Exploring became coed in 1971. A complete overhaul in 1998 transformed Exploring into Venturing, as crews did even more to challenge members and extend their range of activities and adventures.

Also in 1998, Exploring became associated with a career-training program delivered by Learning for Life, an affiliate of the BSA. Local organizations can initiate Explorer posts by matching people and resources to the needs of young people in their communities. The result is a program that helps youth develop and grow as they pursue career-related interests, including aviation, skilled trades, fire and rescue, law enforcement, business and more.

This specialty-training program is making a resurgence today, which Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh calls the “Exploring Explosion.”

1953: The First Pinewood Derby

Imagine the excitement of Cub Scouts racing the first-ever Pinewood Derby cars. Organized by Donald Murphy, Cubmaster of Pack 280C in Manhattan Beach, Calif., the derby idea emerged from Murphy’s passion for carving model cars and interest in pairing each Cub Scout with an adult to build, decorate and race a car of their own.

Using Murphy’s original design, blueprints published in Boys’ Life magazine set the standard for all Pinewood Derby cars to come. And, boy, did they ever!

In the past six decades, more than 100 million model cars have sped down tracks at pack Pinewood Derby races. Parked nose to tail, that’s enough cars to stretch in an unbroken traffic jam from New York City to Los Angeles.

Cub Scouting continues to grow — along with the Pinewood Derby. Begun in 1930 to serve younger boys, Cub Scouting borrowed language from the Wolf Cub program established in England by Robert Baden-Powell and inspired by characters in Rudyard Kipling’s novel, The Jungle Book. Boy Scout den chiefs were the first leaders of Cub Scouts. Den mothers came along a few years later.

Tiger Scouts expanded the program to first-grade boys and their adult partners, usually parents or family members. Lions, a BSA pilot program for kindergarten boys, is introducing Scouting values to 5-year-olds in ways that expand imaginations, spark creativity and amplify fun. At the end of their Lion year, boys graduate to Tiger Scouts and then advance through Cub Scouting.

1969: An Eagle on the Moon

“The Eagle has landed!” Those were Neil Armstrong’s words as the first manned spacecraft touched down on the moon. He was referring to the name of the Apollo 11 lunar lander, but he could just as well have meant himself. Cmdr. Armstrong, who was about to become the first man to walk on the moon, was an Eagle Scout.

Of the 312 pilots and scientists selected as astronauts between 1959 and 2006, 180 were active in the BSA, with 40 of them holding the rank of Eagle. Of the 12 to walk on the moon, 11 were involved in Scouting.

Eagle Scouts have distinguished themselves in many other ways, too. Musicians, scientists, teachers and health care workers have all worn Eagle pins. They have climbed the highest mountains and explored the depths of the seas. They have helped guard the nation and move it forward. Most have done so without fanfare. Others, including Armstrong, became legends.

During America’s push to reach the moon, the BSA launched the Space Exploration merit badge. More than 360,000 have been earned. Scouts today are also deeply involved with BSA’s STEM/Nova program, building enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and math.

1988: Scouting For Food Goes National

Do a Good Turn Daily. This Scouting motto encourages every Scout to be of service to others. Harnessing the power of millions of Scouts has made national Good Turns terrific forces for achieving great things.

Scouting for Food is shining proof of what is possible when young people work together. Scouts distribute collection bags to homes throughout their neighborhoods, returning a week later to gather bags filled with donations of nonperishable food.

Pioneered by the Greater St. Louis Area Council, the program became a BSA National Good Turn in 1988. Scouts annually deliver millions of pounds of groceries to local food banks and families in need.

Other Good Turns have encouraged Scouts to sell bonds during World War I, collect items to recycle throughout the Great Depression, plant World War II victory gardens, distribute leaflets as part of “Get Out the Vote” efforts before elections and answer President Eisenhower’s call for a 1954 Conservation Good Turn.

From feeding the hungry to protecting the environment, Good Turns have done much to improve the lives of others and of the Scouts themselves.

2010: Scouting’s 100th Anniversary

With the theme Celebrating the Adventure, Continuing the Journey, the BSA’s centennial celebration featured a National Jamboree, a first-class stamp issued by the United States Postal Service and a huge parade in the nation’s capital.

Newly designed uniforms and centennial versions of embroidered patches gave Scouting an updated look. Vintage merit badges like Signaling, Tracking, Carpentry and Pathfinding were brought out of retirement for Scouts to earn. A new edition of The Boy Scout Handbook traced Scouting’s heritage.

A total of 110 million people had been registered as BSA members in its first 100 years. In 2010 alone, the numbers included 3 million registered youth and 1.1 million leaders.

Best of all, Scout units continue to do what they have always done best. Scouting began the BSA’s second century just as the movement began its first — by camping, hiking, completing service projects, practicing leadership skills, forming friendships and guiding lives with the Scout Oath and Law.

2013: The Summit Bechtel Reserve Opens

The BSA’s newest national property represents an investment in the present and an exciting vision of good things to come. The 10,000 rugged acres of West Virginia are loaded with opportunities for climbing and rappelling, skateboarding, riding BMX bikes, screaming down zip lines and
much more.

With a spectrum of leadership courses, serving as host to the National Jamboree every four years and offering the thrill of high adventure, SBR serves up something for everyone.

Best of all, sustainability and a deep commitment to conservation inform all that goes on at SBR, as in the entire Scouting organization.

11 Comments

  1. Other significant dates:
    1912: Sea Scouting if formed
    1915: The Order of the Arrow is created
    1916: BSA receives a Title 36 Congressional Charter, signed by President Woodrow Wilson
    1930: Cub Scouting becomes an official part of the BSA
    1974: Eagle Scout Gerald Ford becomes President of The United States of America
    1998: The Venturing program is created
    2013-2017: Changes in national membership policy

    • Limitations on membership were put in place by National in the late 70’s to early 80s and reversed 2013-17. Baden Powell and the founding fathers of BSA had an open policy on who could join. Have researched this vis scout hand books back to1937 so far.

  2. You did not mention when women became Den Mothers, certainly
    a backbone for the Cub Scout program. When were they allowed to become Webelo leaders, Scoutmasters, and members of the Order of the Arrow. I have been a scout leader since my son was a cub at 7 years of age, he is now 48. I have been a Den Mother, a Webelo Leader, Scoutmaster, Explorer/Venture Scout Leader and am currently a District Committee Member and Vigil member of the Order of the Arrow. This September I will celebrate 40 years in Scouting.

  3. Maine High Adventure is not defunct, it is now run by the local council. My Crew has been there several times and loves it.

  4. I’ve been in Scouts for over 55 years. Been to 2 jamborees ( 1957 and1985 ) as a participant. Been to Philmont. Scouting is and has been a way of life for me. Probably the greatest program in the world for a young man. You don’t have to be the best looking, most intelligent , wealthiest. You just need to do your best and you get credit for your efforts. The only one you really are competing with is yourself. It teaches you about life, nature and working together.
    Have enjoyed my experiences emencely.

    • My dad was at 1957 Jamboree, my eldest just went this summer…thanks for your comments! We lost him several years ago, but Scouting is strong with my family. I have my great grandfather’s committee card too!

  5. I agree with maryann you didn’t mention the first woman den leader. I too was a den leader, webelos leader, troop committee member, day camp program director, district committee, roundtable staff, vigil member of the oa. my son went from tigers to eagle. I was in scouting for 22 years, my husband is still in scouting as a unit commissioner.

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