The Boy Scouts of America

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The Boy Scouts of America

1325 W. Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, Texas 75015-2079
Telephone: (972) 580-2000
Fax: (972) 580-2502
Web site:

Nonprofit Company
Employees: 500
Sales: $251.5 million (1998)
NAIC: 81341 Civic and Social Organizations; 51112 Periodical Publishers; 51113 Book Publishers

Rooted in Victorian values, The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a 20th-century phenomenon and a powerful civic force. More than a million Boy Scouts and half a million adult volunteers contribute 50 million service hours a year. BSA is unique among the countrys largest nonprofit groups in that volunteers at the local level are responsible for much of its planning.

Famous Eagle Scouts include Steven Spielberg, H. Ross Perot, Gerald Ford, and Neil Armstrong.

Edwardian Origins

Although many ideas were incorporated into the Boy Scouts of America, a chance encounter on a foggy London night in 1909 connected all the threads. Chicago publisher William D. Boyce was on his way to a safari in Africa. On a layover in London, he became lost and was rescued by a helpful Boy Scout who refused to take a tip for his good deed. This inspired Boyce to set up a meeting with the man who had started the movement in 1907, Major General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell.

Baden-Powell, a plucky Boer War hero, penned Scouting for Boys in 1908 after learning the popularity of his survival manual among schoolboys. Feeling modern males lacked the kinds of initiation rites found in primitive society, and disdaining the urban decadence and declining influence of the British military in Edwardian Britain, Baden-Powell developed his own program for building character among youths in a setting of outdoor recreation. Besides African tribes, he looked to the early British and Irish, the Japanese, the Spartans, and to contemporary American youth movements for inspiration. Although scouting was in its infancy when Boyce discovered it, the movement had already recruited more than 100,000 Boy Scouts across the British Empire. Baden-Powell was knighted for his work in 1910.

Initially unable to obtain a federal charter, Boyce incorporated the Boys Scouts of America on February 8, 1910, in the District of Columbia. He then delegated some of the start-up work to Edgar M. Robinson, who was heading a scouting program for the YMCA (Young Mens Christian Association). On June 21, 1910 dozens of representatives from various boys agencies met at BSAs temporary headquarters at a New York YMCA to elect a steering committee. By this time, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst had organized his own American Boy Scouts.

From the start, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was surrounded by men of influence and means. President William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt were named honorary president and vice-president. The groups president was Colin Livingstone, president of the American National Bank of Washington. Scottish émigré Ernest Thompson Seton, who had founded the Woodcraft Indians and would write the BSA handbook, was chosen first Chief Scout in 1910. Another buckskin-wearing naturalist, Daniel Carter Beard, was first national scout commissioner. He designed the original uniform and merged his own boys group, the Sons of Daniel Boone, with BSA. James E. West, the first Chief Scout Executive, was an inspirational figure. Handicapped and an orphan, he had furthered himself along the lines of a Teddy Roosevelt. However, he antagonized the more athletic types, like Seton, who was forced out of the organization.

BSA established its National Council office at 200 Fifth Avenue, New York on January 2, 1911. It had just seven staff members but membership reached 61,495 that year. President Taft spoke at the groups first annual meeting, held at the White House.

Boys Life magazine was launched that same year and scouting spread to all states by the next year. In 1913, BSA commenced publication of Scouting magazine for Scout volunteers. BSA finally received a federal charter in June 1916 which limited membership to U.S. citizens. Membership stood at 245,183 at year-end. Boy Scouts soon became known for their patriotic service, selling millions of dollars worth of war bonds during World War I.

First World Jamboree in 1920

In 1920, BSA sent 301 members to the first World Jamboree in England, attended by Boy Scouts from 32 of 52 scouting countries. The Boy Scouts adopted the left-handed handshake in 1923. By this time, more than two million people had participated in the program and active membershipboys and volunteerswas nearly 600,000.

Boyces Lone Scouts merged with BSA in 1924. The next year, BSA sent a promotional delegation to South America. In 1927, the headquarters relocated to roomier accommodations at 2 Park Avenue, New York.

The Cub Scouts program for younger boys was officially launched in 1930. Total membership exceeded one million by BSAs 25th anniversary in 1935. Unfortunately, an epidemic of infantile paralysis that year caused the national jamboree to be canceled.

In 1938, BSA received an enormous gift from Waite Phillips, who gave the agency 36,000 acres of land in the Rocky Mountains near Cimarron, New Mexico. Three years later, Phillips added another 91,000 acres to the gift, which became the Philmont Scout Ranch, the worlds largest. The Philtower Building in Tulsa, Oklahoma, accompanied the donation and provided income to run the camp.

Being Prepared: During and After World War II

Boy Scouts again assisted their country during World War II. The range of tasks undertaken included distributing war bonds and propaganda, salvaging critical materials such as rubber, and helping medical and fire brigades.

After the war, BSAs World Friendship Fund gave money to help restore scouting in war-torn areas including the Philippines, which received $10,000. Conservation education featured highly in the scouts program at home. Membership passed two million in 1946.

The U.S. Post Office issued the first stamp honoring the Boy Scouts in 1950. The next year, the scouts collected two million pounds of clothing for various relief efforts. Another Good Turn was hanging millions of Get-Out-the-Vote reminders on doorknobs. Civil defense education was also on the agenda.

The National Council relocated to New Brunswick, New Jersey, in October 1954. BSA started a foreign exchange program with the gift of transportation on U.S. military planes. The International Geophysical Year, 1958, saw an Explorer (adult volunteer) scout accompany an arctic expedition sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences. Total membership reached five million the next year.


As part of its golden jubilee, BSA opened the Johnston Historical Museum in New Brunswick in June 1960. By 1965, 40 million boys had been part of the BSA program, 500,000 of them becoming Eagle Scouts. The National Council launched the BOYPOWER 76 eight-year plan in 1968, aiming to boost membership and to raise $65 million.

In the 1970s, the Scouts tried to Save Our American Resources (SOAR). An anti-drug campaign, Operation Reach, was also launched. In conjunction with the Bicentennial, Boy Scouts displayed a massive exhibition of scouting skills on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Twelve scouts gave the Report to the Nation to President Gerald Ford, himself a former Eagle Scout.

Under pressure to keep membership numbers up in order to maintain donations from the United Way, some troop leaders were found to have exaggerated their enrollment statistics in 1974. At any rate, the BOYPOWER campaign ultimately proved unsuccessful. BSA had but 4.6 million members in 1976, down 1.1 million from 1969. Membership continued to wane. BSA had even introduced an action figure, Steve Scout, which also failed.

In 1978, updating its image, BSA unofficially dubbed itself Scouting USA. It launched a new Campaign for Character to raise $49 million. National Council headquarters relocated again in 1979, to Irving, Texas, while the 15th World Jamboree was postponed due to events in the host country of Iran.

Membership figures started to rise again in 1980. Perhaps the new uniforms designed by Oscar de la Renta helped. Scouts nationwide urged participation in the census. They formed new relationships with other government agencies, such as the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy. Cub Scouting turned 50 and signed up its 30 millionth Cub Scout.

Company Perspectives:

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Scouting helps develop strong values that stay with youth throughout their lives. This is particularly true for boys who stay in Scouting for five or more years.

The Boy Scouts asked Louis Harris & Associates to accept the challenge of scientifically uncovering the foundational elements to the success of Scouting programs. The research determined that Scouting is effective because it meets six critical elements of healthy youth development: 1) Strong personal values and character; 2) a sense of self-worth; 3) caring and nurturing relationships with parents, other adults, and peers; 4) a desire to learn; 5) productive and creative use of time; 6) social adeptness.

BSA counted its one millionth Eagle Scout in 1982. At the same time, the organization had launched its Shaping Tomorrow program. New categories of scoutingTiger Cubs for 7-year-old boys and athletics-oriented Varsity Scouting for 14- to 17-year-oldsemerged.

In 1985, the year of BSAs 75th anniversary, scouts lit campfires outside each state capitol and carried the ashes in a three-month procession across the country. Membership continued to climb, exceeding five million by the end of 1986.

That year, Boy Scouts promoted the cause of organ donation. Societal issues (unacceptables) tackled by BSA in the late 1980s included drug abuse, child abuse, illiteracy, youth unemployment, and hunger. Backed by corporate supporters such as Quaker Oats and the United Way, scouts collected 60 million containers of food in 1988 alone. BSA recognized the potential for child abuse in its own organization and structured activities to eliminate one-on-one encounters between scouts and adult volunteers.

New Frontiers in the 1990s

The collapse of the Soviet empire opened new frontiers for the Boy Scouts. Czechoslovakia and Hungary soon began their own programs. In 1990, a BSA delegation sought opportunities in Moscow, then continued to the Vatican City to present Pope John Paul II with a commendation. At home, the Hispanic Emphasis and Urban Emphasis targeted underrepresented segments of the population.

A sophisticated TV ad campaign aimed to swell the ranks of the Boy Scouts in the United States, who numbered only one million in 1990. Cub Scouting, aimed at younger boys, was much more popular as teenagers found traditional Boy Scout activities such as knot-tying decidedly unhip. In-school Scouting brought many new members in urban areas, although purists protested the perceived dilution of the curriculum.

BSAs policy barring homosexuals prompted Levi Strauss, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo to cancel their support for the organization (which together amounted to about $100,000 a year) in 1992. Conservative groups boycotted the three San Francisco-based firms in response, and Bank of America soon resumed its contributions. BSA also banned atheists, as one of its three founding principles was a belief in God. An appellate court ruled that the Boy Scouts were a private group not subject to civil rights laws. Although it won a 1987 lawsuit from a woman scorned, BSA subsequently allowed women into scoutmaster positions.

A restructuring in 1992 reduced the number of councils from 408 to 340 and the number of regions from six to four. BSA also sold off underutilized real estate, switched from mainframe computers to PCs, and began benchmarking practices from the world of business. It also began to reduce its staffing levels.

Jere Ratcliffe was picked to lead the National Council in 1993, taking over from Norm Augustine, CEO of Lockheed Martin. BSA started systematically searching for more endowment money. Operating revenues were $411 million in 1995, a fifth of it provided by the United Way, which was cutting back its contribution. While it had 3,300 professional employees, more than a million volunteers did most of the work. Operation First Class sought adults from diverse backgrounds to fill the ranks.

Although a much beloved organization among Americans of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, The Boy Scouts of America was not without its share of ongoing problems and controversies. For example, in 1999 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of James Dale, a scoutmaster whom BSA had expelled for being gay. BSA appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Apparently, whether gays would be tolerated within its ranks remained an as yet unanswered question. Nonetheless, the organization looked to the future with optimism, celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2000 and rededicating itself to the traditions that had served it so well throughout its history.

Principal Divisions

Tiger Cubs BSA; Cub Scouting; Boy Scouting; Varsity Scouting; Venturing; National Eagle Scout Association.

Principal Competitors

Boys Clubs of America; Young Mens Christian Association


Key Dates:

Scouting begins in England as the brainchild of Robert Baden-Powell.
Baden-Powell publishes Scouting for Boys.
American William D. Boyce is introduced to scouting through a chance occurrence.
National Council offices are launched in the United States; first issue of Boys Life is published.
Scouting spreads to all 50 states.
The first Boy Scout World Jamboree is held in England.
Cub Scouts, a program for younger boys, is launched.
The millionth Eagle Scout is registered; the Tiger Cubs program for first graders is launched.
The Boy Scouts of America celebrates its 90th birthday.

Further Reading

Byrne, John A., Prepared at Last, Forbes, October 10, 1983, pp. 32f.

Cochran, William F., Confessions of a Jamboree Scoutmaster, Harpers, February 1951, pp. 59-67.

Dean, John I., Scouting in America: 1910-1990, D.Ed, diss., University of South Carolina, 1992.

Ferguson, Tim W., Departures from Tradition: Airlines, Yes; Scouts, No, The Wall Street Journal, August 25, 1992, p. A15.

Lambert, Wade, Boy Scouts Can Prevent Atheists from Joining Group, Court Rules, Wall Street Journal, May 19, 1993, p. B8.

MacLeod, David Irving, Good Boys Made Better: The Boy Scouts of America, Boys Brigades, and YMCA Boys Work, 1880-1920, Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1973.

Miller, Cyndee, Quayles Comments Fuel Boycott Against Three Firms, Marketing News, July 20, 1992, p. 1.

Mullin, Rick, Reorienting the Boy Scouts, Journal of Business Strategy, July/August 1996, pp. 2Iff.

Pechter, Kerry, Round the Campfire Theyll Sing: Hail, Hail, the Gangs All Here, Wall Street Journal, March 22, 1990, p. B1.

Peterson, Robert W., The Boy Scouts, New York: American Heritage, 1985.

, Happy Birthday, Boys, Boys Life, February 2000, pp. 14-17.

Rivera, Elaine, All for a Scouts Honor, Time, August 16, 1999, p. 33.

Stein, Benjamin J., The Magic of Scouting, Wall Street Journal, April 17, 1997.

Wagner, Carolyn Ditte, The Boy Scouts of America: A Model and a Mirror of American Society, Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1978.

Young, David, Boy Scout Numbers Down Since Exposé, Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1975.

, Phantoms Fill Boy Scout Roles; Scout Records FalsifiedScout Pledge Lost in Sign Up Drive, Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1974, pp. 1, 23.

Frederick C. Ingram