This year, the Boy Scouts of America celebrate their 100th anniversary, and the Nebraska Historical Museum is holding an exhibit of Scout memoriabilia.

In 1907, when General Robert Baden-Power returned from the Boer War in South Africa and learned that many boys used his book on military scouting as a guide for camping and other out door activities, he created the peacetime scouting organization which he called the “Boy Scouts.” Three years later, this idea spread to the United States when Chicago publisher William Boyce put his own Americanized spin on Baden-Powell’s program. The apochryphal story is that an American on a busy London street stopped a boy in uniform and asked directions, and when he offered to pay the boy for his help, the boy replied, "I don't take pay. I'm a Boy Scout." The American was so impressed, he set about making such an organization for boys after he returned to his own country. At this time, there were several other organizations using similar names but Boyce is the one credited with organizing what we now know as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

The first uniforms resembled those worn by "doughboys" during World War One. (Picture at right)

Compared to present-day Scouting, rules for joining were fairly lax. Entry age was twelve with the maximum age limit being eighteen. In 1949, the entry age was lowered to eleven, in 1972 to ten, and finally the applicant simply had to have completed the fifth grade, or earned the Webelos (WE BE LOng) Arrow of Light award. Originally, there were only three ranks: Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class. Later, the Life, Star, and Eagle were added to recognize the number of merit badges a Scout earns.

Scouting ranks show an entrant's progress through studying skills and receiving awards and badges. In 1972, the first three ranks required obtaining 12 "skill awards": Camping, Citizenship, Communications, Community Living, Conservation, Cooking, Environment, Family Living, First Aid, Hiking, Physical Fitness, Swimming. For completion of each group, the Scout received a metal belt loop. In 1989, the skill awards were dropped and the system used prior to 1972 was reinstated.

Before 1959, only older, Second Class Scouts were allowed to work for Merit Badges. In 1972, a specific number of badges were required for all Scouts, but in 1976, this was changed. The badge for Tenderfoot was dropped and the number of badges for both First and Second Class Scouts reduced. In 1979, this criteria was changed again, with all merit badges for Second Glass deleted and those for First Class changed to a single one for First Aid. At last, in 1989. that requirement was also dropped so merit badges are now back where they started. (At right are medals, etc, from scout Arthur J. Smith, Jr)

The Eagle rank is Scouting’s highest award and was established in 1911, with the first badge awarded in 1912 to Arthur Rose Eldred. To achieve Eagle Scout Rank, the applicant must be eighteen, and perform some community service as a project. Many Scouts never attain this honor, although since Eldred’s time, about two million boys have been awarded the Eagle Scout rank. Since 1952, adult men are also allowed to earn the badge. At first, the requirement was earning 21 merit badges. Later, Leadership and Service achievements were added. (Scout uniform at left was designed by Oscar de la Renta)

Some Famous Eagle Scouts:

Philo Farnsworth – inventor of television
Henry “Hank” Aaron – the “home run king”
Gerald R. Ford - 38th President of the United States
Neil Armstrong - astronaut and first man on the moon
Steven Spielberg - Academy Award-winning film director
Sam Walton - founder of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, the largest single employer in the world
Michael Moore – film director
John Tesh – musician
Two former director FBI directors: Louis Freeh and William S. Sessions
H. Ross Perot, founder of Electronic Data Systems and The Perot Group, former presidential candidate
Donald H. Rumsfeld - former United States Secretary of Defense
Milton Caniff – cretor of comic strip “Steve Canyon”
James Stewart – actor
William C. Westmoreland - retired general
James Brady - gun control advocate and former White House Press Secretary who was shot during the Reagan assassination attempt
Michael S. Dukakis - former governor of Massachusetts and former presidential candidate
William Hanna - animator, director, producer, cartoon artist, and co-founder of Hanna-Barbera
James Lovell - astronaut who flew on missions Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8, and Apollo 13
J. W. Marriott, Jr. - Chairman and CEO of Marriott International
John Lawrence Sweeney, II – son of the author of this article

Until the early 1950s, a Scout was reviewed for his merit badges and ranks at a district or council Court of Honor and received his badge that same evening. Later, when individual troops took over the presentation ritual, Scouts sometimes had to wait several months to receive their badges. In 1972, individual troops were allowed to present badges as soon as they were earned. At this Court of Honor, formal recognition took place in the presence of the Scout’s parents.

(Uniform above is the Centennial uniform)


  1. Mona Risk // June 23, 2010 at 3:57 PM  

    What a great post, Toni. My DH was a scout and cubmaster for years.

  2. Judy // June 23, 2010 at 4:08 PM  

    My brother is an eagle scout and I've gone to a lot of Scout Pot Luck suppers in my life!! Thanks for all the info

  3. Pamela Vee // June 23, 2010 at 5:06 PM  

    My son was in the boy scouts. He loved it. And I was so proud of all the accomplishments he had.

  4. Mary Ricksen // June 23, 2010 at 8:04 PM  

    One of my brother's was a cub scout, a boy scout and an eagle scout. That's a heck of a lot of scouting!!
    My dad was not the scoutmaster type!

  5. Autumn Jordon // June 23, 2010 at 8:21 PM  

    Very cool. I did not know this, even though I had three boys in cub scouts. I love posts where I learn things. Thanks for posting, Toni.

  6. Joanne // June 23, 2010 at 9:40 PM  

    Hi Toni,
    Interesting post about the boy scouts. My son was a scout for many years, and has some fond (and not so fond) memories. He never was much of an outdoorsy type, but at age 30, he still talks about his boy scout experiences.

  7. Scarlet Pumpernickel // June 23, 2010 at 10:05 PM  

    Another interesting blog, Thanks Toni!

  8. Mary Marvella // June 23, 2010 at 11:57 PM  

    Awesome Blog, Toni! You give us much food for tough with your research.

    I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout. They wouldn't take me in the Boy Scouts.

  9. Beth Trissel // June 25, 2010 at 12:08 PM  

    Yeaaaaa for the Scouts! I was a girl scouts all the way through Cadets.