Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is an organization for boys, based in the United States of America, with some presence in other countries. The BSA is part of the global Scouting movement. The purpose of the BSA is to develop character and leadership, primarily through camping and other outdoor activities, but also through community service and leadership positions. The fundamental unit of Boy Scout organization is the troop.

The BSA has three membership divisions:

  • Cub Scouting is for boys between the first and fifth grades, or 7-10 years old. Its main object is to prepare boys to join a regular Boy Scout troop.
  • Boy Scouting is for boys ages 11-17. It is the main (though not the largest) of the divisions, and is discussed in this article.
  • Venturing is for young men and women ages 14-20. It is an extension of Boy Scouting for older individuals, oriented more towards leadership and training its members to help younger Scouts.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Creed and Rank Advancement
3 Activities
4 Organization
5 Awards, Honors and Symbolism
6 Uniform
7 Controversy
8 Related Articles
9 External links


Scouting was founded by Lord Baden-Powell in Great Britain based on skills he learned in defense of the town of Mafeking in the Boer War and at an experimental camp on Brownsea Island in Dorset.

Because Baden-Powell was also associated with the YMCA in Britain, news of the early Boy Scout manual, Scouting For Boys, had already reached the United States. The Boy Scout movement, however, did not reach the U.S. until 1909, when it was instituted by William D. Boyce.

The story of how Boyce came to be interested in Scouting is known to every Scout, but not always in the same form. All versions agree on the following: Boyce, a publisher from Chicago, was lost in London's famous fog when he was met by a boy who showed him the way to his destination. The boy refused an offer of payment for his services.

Some versions claim that Boyce actually knew about Scouting before he ever met the boy in question, having in fact come to London with the intent of learning more about the organization, and that the place he was seeking in the fog was actually Scouting headquarters. Some assert that the boy vanished into the fog after refusing Boyce's money, but others declare that the two arranged to meet again, so that the boy could show Boyce to the headquarters. Still others hold that the boy was uniformed at the time. The truth of the matter may never be known for sure.

Boyce returned to the United States and, with two other businessmen, Edward S. Stewart and Stanley D. Willis, Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. The first troop was Troop 1, based at a YMCA. Edgar Robinson, an important administrator of the YMCA in Chicago, agreed to help Boyce organize the Boy Scouts as a national organization.

The BSA had many rival organizations in its early days, including:

  • the American Boy Scouts, (later "United States Boy Scouts") founded by William Randolph Hearst and headed by Colonel Peter Bomus, and charged with defending the national highways;
  • the National Scouts of America, affiliated with a military school;
  • the Peace Scouts of California;
  • the YMCA Scouts;
  • the Rhode Island Boy Scouts;
  • the Leatherstocking Scouts;
  • the Sons of Daniel Boone, founded by Daniel Carter Beard, who was later associated with the BSA;
  • and the Woodcraft Indians, founded by Ernest Thompson Seton, who met Baden-Powell in person in 1906 also later became very influential in the BSA.

The Woodcraft Indians and the Sons of Daniel Boone eventually merged with Boyce's organization; the consolidation was complete by the late 1910s.

The Boy Scouts of America was successfully organized by 1910, when Seton, Beard and Baden Powell, along with Boyce, Edgar Robinson and others, called a national meeting. The first national officers were selected, and it was agreed that the President of the United States (then Taft) was to be the Honorary President of the BSA, a tradition that is still followed today. The Scouts were then incorporated by Boyce on February 8, 1910.

In 1911, the Boy Scouts of America published the first American Boy Scout manual ("Handbook For Boys"), a revision of Seton's version. This was the first appearance of the American Scout Oath and Law. The British version was a pledge of allegiance to the King. James E. West wrote the Scout Oath, and added three points to the British version of the Law (brave, clean and reverent).

In 1912, Sea Scouting became an official program. Sea Scouting is closely akin to the Boy Scouts of America, though focused primarily on maritime activities. Boys Life magazine also began in 1912, and continues today to be the official Boy Scout magazine. In 1913, the Scouting Magazine for Leaders started.

The Boy Scouts have served at every presidential inauguration since Woodrow Wilson's in 1913.

In 1916 Paul Sleman, Colin H. Livingstone, Ernest S. Martin and James E. West successfully lobbied Congress for a federal charter for BSA. Also in 1916, Baden Powell organized Wolf Scouts in Britain, for boys too young for the Boy Scouts (minimum age twelve at the time). In BSA, Wolf Scouts became Cub Scouts.

In 1919 Baden Powell began a training program called Wood Badge for adult leaders in Scouting. It was instituted all over the world and is still in use today.

In 1920 the first International Scout Jamboree, a gathering of scouts from all over the world, was held in London. Jamborees are currently held every four years, in varying countries. It will never be held in the United States because BSA prohibits females from joining as youth members, the only non-Muslim country to do so.

In 1937, oil magnate Waite Phillips donated to the BSA a large tract of land in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. This is now the Philmont Scout Ranch.

The Order of the Arrow began in 1915, was officially recognized by the National Council in 1936, and became fully integrated into the BSA in 1948.

Creed and Rank Advancement

The ranks of Boy Scouting are, in order of award:
  • Scout
  • Tenderfoot
  • Second Class
  • First Class
  • Star
  • Life
  • Eagle

The ranks up to First Class are awarded for knowledge of Scout skills (first aid, cooking, knots, etc.) The Star and Life ranks require that the boy serve in a position of responsibility for several months (most of the positions listed in Troop Organization below are acceptable for this requirement), and community service. The Eagle Scout rank likewise requires a position of responsibility, as well as a large community service project planned entirely by the Eagle Scout candidate, and the earning of 12 specifically required merit badges plus 9 more, for a total of 21. (A portion of the merit badge requirement must be completed for both the Star and Life ranks.) The ranks require a progressively increasing commitment to the Scout Oath and Law (see above). (A full listing of requirements can be found at List of BSA rank requirements.)

After attaining the rank of Eagle, a scout may earn Eagle Palms. For five additional merit badges beyond the twenty-one required for the Eagle Rank, a bronze palm is earned. Five more is a gold palm and five beyond that is a silver palm. Additional silver palms may be earned for each cluster of five merit badges.

Every rank advancement involves a Scoutmaster conference and a Board of Review. At the conference, the Scout is tested on his knowledge of all skills required for the rank he seeks to advance to, and all ranks he has earned. The Board of Review is a test of the Scout's personal growth and his relationship with the Scouting organization.


Scout activities are conducted at the discretion of the troop, but all troops' programs have some similarities.

Troops typically hold meetings once a week, though some do not meet during the summer. The activities conducted at troop meetings vary widely, from Scout skills training to camping (recreation) trip planning to games.

Patrol meetings independent of troop meetings may be held to conduct troop business, such as the creation of a patrol flag. Most patrols do not hold regular meetings independent of troop meetings, but some go so far as to organize their own outings. Patrol activities are planned by the patrol leader (see Organization).

Troops also typically hold excursions once a month or more. These are typically camping trips. These campouts are an important place for Scouts to work on skills and rank advancement, and also to entertain themselves. Some troops also hold regular backpacking trips. Other excursions are more unusual, involving, for example, paintball or hang gliding.

It is common for several troops within a district to gather at least once a year at a special weekend campout called a camporee. A camporee is a competition, with events such as knot tying, flagpole raising and flag ceremony, and orienteering. Troops place varying amounts of emphasis on preparing for camporees, and those that win the highest awards usually do so by making camporee their first priority. Similar to a camporee, a jamboree occurs less often and draws troops from an entire Council (made up of several districts).

Most councils, if not all, own and operate one or more permanent camps. These camps host a variety of activities throughout the year, but are most heavily used during the summer. Troops stay at these camps for a week at a time. Summer camps are important places for the earning of merit badges, particularly those that require special facilities, such as archery or canoeing. Purely recreational activities are also available, and most camps offer day-long overnight side trips. Troops may choose to attend the summer camp operated by their own council, or one in a more distant location.

The national Scout organization also operates a number of high-adventure bases, including Philmont Scout Ranch and the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base. Troops may choose to visit high-adventure bases instead of or in addition to the standard summer camp.


A Boy Scout troop is led by a Scoutmaster and several Assistant Scoutmasters. There is also a Troop Committee, with various positions relevant to the running of the troop and organizing of activities.

Troops are divided into patrols of seven boys, give or take a few. Each patrol is led by a Patrol Leader (PL) and his Assistant Patrol Leader(s) (APL's). The highest positions of responsibility within the troop are those of the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL), followed by his Assistant Senior Patrol Leader(s) (ASPL's). APL's are appointed by PL's; ASPL's are appointed by the SPL with the advice of the Scoutmaster.

Non-leadership positions of responsibility include:

Troops are grouped into districts covering a small geographical area and containing several troops. Districts are likewise organized into councils. There are over three hundred councils, all subsidiary to the National Council.

BSA's National Office is currently located in Irving, Texas. The National Organization is divided into regional Councils, which range in size from two small West Virginia counties (Mountaineer Council) to all of DC and much of Maryland and northern Virginia (National Capital Area Council).

Awards, Honors and Symbolism

The BSA offers many awards and honors, such as:
  • 20, 40, 60 and 100 Nights under the Stars awards (Nights under the Stars include all forms of camping.);
  • 50 Miler awards for hiking or watercraft trips of 50 miles, plus 10 hours of hiking-related community service;
  • The Mile Swim award, for swimming one mile nonstop;
  • The Heroism Award, for heroic action such as saving a life;
  • The Honor Medal, for resourcefulness and skill in saving or trying to save a life.
  • Square Knot awards are given for significant good deeds. Patches may have different color schemes according to the good deed done. Most Square Knot awards can be earned to adults only, with the exception of the youth religious emblems.
  • The Totin' Chip card is given to Scouts who have learned how to safely use sharp-edged tools.
  • The Firem'n Chit card is given to Scouts who have learned how to safely build and light a campfire.
  • Thirty or so different religious emblems are granted in conjunction with various Christian denominations and other religions.

Badges of rank:
  • The Scout rank badge has a brown fleur-de-lis on a greenish-yellow background. The fleur-de-lis symbolizes a compass needle, pointing the Scout in the right direction, which is onward and upward.
  • The Tenderfoot rank badge has a yellow fleur-de-lis, with a star on each of the two lateral points, an eagle on the center, and a shield on the eagle's chest colored somewhat like the American flag. The stars symbolize truth and knowledge; the eagle and shield symbolize freedom and readiness to defend that freedom.
  • The Second Class rank badge has a yellow horizontal scroll with the words of the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared," the ends turned up, and a knotted rope hanging from the bottom. The knot symbolizes a reminder for each scout to remember the Boy Scout slogan which is to "Do A Good Turn Daily". This emblem represents service. The upturned ends of the scroll symbolize cheerfulness in service.
  • The First Class rank badge combines the emblems for Tenderfoot and Second Class.
  • The Star rank badge has the First Class emblem on top of a yellow star.
  • The Life rank badge has the First Class emblem on top of a red heart, signifying that the ideals of Scouting have become a part of the Scout's life and character.
  • The Eagle Scout badge has a grey eagle, and a grey scroll like that on the Second Class emblem. They are on a tricolor background ringed with the words "Eagle Scout: Boy Scouts of America."

Merit badges may be earned in any of over one hundred different subjects. Some merit badges relate to personal development and adult living; others represent Scout skills; many are handicrafts or hobbies; most are potential career options.


The standard Scout uniform, worn by Scouts and adult leaders, includes:
  • A beige button-up shirt, with two front pockets. Most Scouts opt for the short-sleeved version.
  • Green pants or shorts with multiple pockets, made of a material similar to that of blue jeans
  • A cloth, webbed belt with a brass buckle. The end of the belt has a brass tab. When worn the brass tab should be alligned in contact with the brass buckle so that there is no gap between the buckle and end of the belt.
  • A neckerchief. Neckerchief designs are unique to every troop.
  • Green socks with two red bands near the top are worn with shorts and at one time were the only type of approved socks to be worn with the uniform. Shorter, all-green socks without red bands may now be worn with long pants.
  • An optional green baseball cap with red brim and Scouting insignia on the forehead is one of the approved forms of headgear. There are many other styles (beret, etc.) that a troop may adopt.
  • Some troops institute coup beads. These vary between troops, but the basic principle is this: A thick piece of leather is worn on the belt, with leather thongs hanging from it. For every Scout activity in which he participates, a Scout is awarded a special bead (or sometimes a pair, for symmetry) that is slipped onto the thong.

Many patches are worn at specific places on the uniform shirt:
  • On the left sleeve, from the top down: a pentagonal patch representing the council to with the Scout belongs, the number of the troop to which he belongs, a patch representing any position of responsibility he may hold, and a patch signifying that the Scout (or adult leader) has undergone leadership training.
  • On the right sleeve, from the top down: an American flag, and an optional patch representing the name of the patrol to which the Scout belongs.
  • On the left pocket, a badge of rank
  • Above the left pocket, a scout may wear the "Arrow of Light" award, the only award that may be transitioned from the Cub Scout uniform to the Boy Scout uniform.
  • On the right pocket, a patch awarded at a summer camp or other activity, or a Nights under the Stars award
  • On the right pocket flap, a patch signifying membership in the Order of the Arrow


The Boy Scouts give female adult leaders (mothers) most of the privileges of male adult leaders. This policy was instituted in response to a shortage of fathers willing to participate actively in running the troops.

Until 1954, the Boy Scouts of America was a segregated organization. Colored Troops, as they were officially known, were given little support from Districts, Councils and the national offices. It was believed that Colored Scouts and Leaders would be less able to live up to the ideals of the Boy Scouts.

Some practices of the organization have received increased public attention, largely beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century. Two particularly controversial policies have been the BSA leadership's prohibition (usually enforced) of atheist or homosexual members and leaders. Some donors of funding or meeting space have reduced their support in protest of these policies.

BSA policy has also led to quarrels between the BSA and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The UUA has tolerance as one of its defining virtues, and this includes respect and inclusion of atheists, gays, and lesbians. The BSA, which had long honored the UUA with religious badges, along with other religions that had Boy Scout programs, withdrew the badges, saying that Boy Scouts could no longer wear Unitarian Universalist badges on their uniforms. The UUA attempted to compromise, removing language that the BSA considers offensive from its official program manuals and informing young Unitarian Universalist Boy Scouts of the virtue of tolerance by other means. However, the BSA rejected this attempt at compromise, and the UUA responded by continuing its Boy Scout program on its own and unilaterally encouraging Boy Scouts to wear Unitarian Universalist religious badges on their uniforms.

The BSA believes that "an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law". Although it officially makes no effort to discover the sexual orientation of any person, BSA scout leaders have investigated and expelled non-avowed homosexuals [1]. Lawsuits over this matter have gone as high as the United States Supreme Court, which ruled (in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale) that the BSA is a private association with the right to set its own standards for membership and leadership.

Many critics, especially internal ones, point out that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the single largest donor to BSA, has threatened to remove all support if the policy against homosexuals is removed, and that this is the single largest reason for the policy. The LDS Church in Canada funds the Scouting organization there, in spite of an explicit policy allowing homosexual leaders, and also funds the Girl Scouts of America who similarly tolerate openly homosexual leadership.

Some individual councils, such as the Minuteman Council and Old Colony Council of Massachusetts, have not enforced the controversial policies, apparently defying the national council. In August 2001, a spokesperson for the Minuteman Council was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying "Discussions about sexual orientation do not have a place in Scouts. the Scouts will not inquire into a person's sexual history, and that person will not expose their sexual orientation one way or the other." The council argued that their "don't ask, don't tell" policy does not, in fact, conflict with the national policy, but in public discussions, both supporters and opponents of the national policy clearly regard the above-cited Massachusetts' councils' policies as being meaningfully different from the national policy.

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