Boys Scouts of America 100 years
Boys Scouts of America 100 years

Today, 100 years ago, Chicago Publisher and Multi Millionaire William D. Boyce, with two partners, founded the Boys Scouts of America as the result of a trip he had made to London where he had a personal encounter with the power of the boy scouts movement that had started over there with Lt. General Baden Powell three years earlier in 1907. The origins of the Scout movements are embedded in the economic changes and social upheaval that occurred during and after the introduction of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.

Losing touch with Nature

The industrial revolution had two major consequences on life in a world that until then had been purely agricultural and seafarer/trade oriented. The move to industrial production led to the concentration of manufacturing in cities with as result a major population move from the country to the cities in Europe and the Atlantic Seaboard. After all, that’s where the jobs were. This trend was most notable in England, the birth ground of industrialization. As a consequence of the industrial concentration in cities, millions of families moved to the cities and contact with nature for the children became sporadic to non-existent.

Baden Powell who served in the British Army in India and South Africa from 1876 to 1910, noticed that many of his soldiers lacked the necessary survival skills in nature. Especially the Second Boer War in South Africa between the Boers (farmers) and the British Imperial Army made Baden Powell start writing books and instructions for young boys on how to prepare and deal with nature. The war, which lasted almost 3 years instead of an expected couple of months, revealed that British soldiers had no clue about scouting and dealing with nature in warfare. The war, also called the last Imperial War, was finally won by the British on massive deployment of troops committing atrocities at a massive price both in lives and funds.

Baden Powell at the First Scout Camp in 1907
Baden Powell at the First Scout Camp in 1907

On August 1, 1907 Baden Powell put his teachings in the book Scouting for Boys to the test with a first boys camping event on Brownsea Island in southern England where he engaged the participating boys in camping, observation, woodcraft, chivalry, lifesaving and patriotism. Recognized as the world’s first Scout Camp, the event is regarded as the real origin of the worldwide Scout movement.

Baden Powell’s teaching were extensively based on his practical experiences and the American League of Woodcraft Indians, which was established by Ernest Thompson Seton in 1902 in Cos Cob, Connecticut, as well as the Sons of Daniel Boone, a youth program based on the experiences of American frontier men, that was founded by Daniel Beard in 1905.

Newsman Explorer Millionaire William Boyce brings Scout Program to America

Two an a half years after Baden Powell’s first camp, Chicago publisher and multi-millionaire William D. Boyce, founded The Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910, after experiencing the power of the Boy Scout movement during a trip to London in the previous year. Boyce was born and grew up in the heartland of Pennsylvania steel manufacturing, he was an avid outdoors man, astute businessman and explorer. The somewhat fictionalized story of his encounter with Boy Scouts comes from a trip to London, where he, as the story goes, got lost in the dense London Smog and a Boy Scout guided him back. Hugely impressed by this deed (a good deed a day) Boyce read up on scouting and upon his return to the US he formed the BSA. 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”.

BSA - 100 Years Strong
BSA - 100 Years Strong

The Early Days and the Struggle for Hegemony

The early days of the Boy Scouts of America organization are a little clouded and read like a power struggle as politics, conflicts and envy entered the scene. Boy Scout History Religious, business and political interests fought for overall leadership, while it was mainly the organizational expertise of several YMCA administrators that gave a basis for the organization to grow from. But under the leadership of James E. West, an attorney with YMCA experience and fighter for childrens’ rights, who accepted a 6 months employ in 1911, which lasted 32 years, the BSA quickly grew into an organization that over time incorporated many of the splinter groups involved in making men out of boys in the United States.

The reach of Boy Scout programs throughout the world has been substantial and absolutely character forming in the process of children becoming responsible, honest and decent adults, worthy and capable of valuable contributions to society and civilization.

One Good Deed a Day Keeps Evil Away

I never made it to the Boy Scout level. I did however enjoy 2 years as a cub scout and fondly remember the Saturday afternoons as a child that I put on my uniform, strapped on my “dagger” and flashlight and went out in the woods with a bunch of my peers to solve the riddles and execute the tasks set out by our troop leaders. I remember the pride of receiving 2 stars on my cap and 4 bands on my sleeve, which made me a troup leader.

I was actually slated to go the the August 1963 World Jamboree in Greece, but when news reached us that the Philippine Scout contingent had crashed enroute to Greece near Bombay in the Indian Ocean, killing 24 of our Scout brothers, for protective reasons I did not understand in those days, our participation was cancelled at the last minute. When John F. Kennedy was killed 3 months later and 4 days before my 13th birthday I exchanged my Boy Scout uniform for a Speedo and swimming became my new passion with targets to accomplish.

However until this day, 46 years later, I never forget to do a good deed every day. It’s ingrained as a valuable reminder from those early formative days as a Cub Scout, that it really is not that hard to be honest, responsible and decent; my personal Trinity Creed I took away from those days.

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