Uniformed Youth Group Biography: William D. Boyce (American, 1858-1929)

Figure 1.--

William D. Boyce was a 51 year-old newspaper and magazine publisher from Chicago, Illinois who after getting lost in a thick London fog in 1910 was escorted to his destination by the famed unknown Boy Scout. Boyce at the time had never even heard of Boy Scouting, but was so impressed that when he retuned to America he helped found the Boys Scouts of America (BSA). He used his business skills to help create the most important youth organization in the United States. Boyce's generous financial contributions were critical at thecearly stages of the program. His donations came with only one condition, the BSA would include all boys, regardless of race or creed. As a result of clashes with BSA executive James West, he ecentually with drew from the BSA and founded the Lone Scout program for boys living in isolated areas.


Boyce describes himself of being born of "sturdy pioneer stock".


William was born in 1858 in Plum Township, Allegheny County, Pennstyvania. He was raised on a hillside farm. We know little about his childhood. We know he worked hard on the farm and developed a passion for the outdoor life.


William had two siblings.


William attended the Wooster Academy.


Boyce liked to traveled. He co-founded a newpaper in Winnepeg, Canada about the Northwest Frontier. He worked as a reporter in Fargo, North Dakota. He founded Dakota Clipper in 1882. Boyce published the paper while organizing a new ptoject about as far from Dakota as possible--the New Orleans Cotton Exposition. Boyce sold his newspaper in 1885. He returned to Chicago and established a syndication service for small town papers. Based in his own experience he saw that small newspapers had limited staffs and that could use services provided at low cost to provide articles and other material. He also launched even more newspapers and publications: the Saturday Blade, the Chicago Ledger, the Chicago World, and Farming Business. The combined weekly circulation totaled an impressive 500,000 copies by 1894.

Boyce saw the potential of using boys to sell his papers and he, more than many other publishers, made some effort to look after their welfare. He had 30,000 boy-agents helping to sell his weeklies. The boys played a major role in his business success. He also came to keenly appreciate their needs.


Boyce in 1883, he married Mary Jane Deacon, a childhood friend. He nicknamed her "Rattlesnake Jane" as she was able to match his skill in poker and being an expert shot--unusual skills for refined ladies at ther time. They had one son.

Other Inerests

Boyce's publishing empire brought financial success. He gradually tired of just making money and began to tarvel extensively, including hunting expeditions. Then he found a new challenge to absorb his boundless energy.

The Unknown Scout

Boyce was in London returning from a hunting trip in East Africa (February 1909). He got lost during a terrible pea-soup fog in London's confusing streets. The British capital lay in the grip of a dense "pea soup" fog. Even during the day it was hard to get around. Traffic slowed to a crawl. A boy saw that Boyce was lost and asked, "Can I help you, sir?". Boyce expalined he had an important business meeting. The Scout offered, "If you'll give me the address I'll take you there." Boyce offered the boy a tip, but it was declined. When he asked why, thevboy replied, "Because I'm a Scout!" The boy explained about being a Scout and later took Boyce to Scout Headquarters to meet Lieutenant-General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement.

Lord Baden-Powell

Boyce had an extended meeting with Baden-Powell who explained the developing Scouting program to him. Boyce was so impressed with the potential of Scouing for America. Through his business enterprises, he had many dealings with boys, but his many experiences had no impressed him like his first encounter with a Boy Scout in the London fog. Boyce returned to America a few days after his meeting with Baden Powell. He brought a trunkful of Scout literature, uniforms and insignia back to America.

Founding the BSA

Boyce, as soon as he returned home to Chicago, began working on an American Scouting organiztion. He discussed the idea with his friend, Colin H. Livingstone, of Washington, D.C., and with other people in Washington, DC. Together only four months after the foggy encounter with the inknown Scout in London, they established a new corporation--the Boy Scouts of America--the BSA.


Boyce used much of the organization of Baden Powell's Boy Scouts, but added Indian lore to the prgram. He became the "Chief Totem" and launched the program. His first effort failed because of poor organization. He received valuable advise from YMCA executives Edgar Robinson, J.A. Van Dis, and Dr. L.L. Doggett, who were also interested in the Scout movement. Two similar groups, the "Woodcraft Indians" and the "Sons of Daniel Boone" joined the BSA providing much needed skill and experience. Boyce was a businessman with an interest in youth work. His critical contribution to Scouting was to incorporate the BSA as a business. He incorporated the organization, choosing Washington, DC, rather than Chicago to emphasize its national character. It was in Washington that the BSA was incorporated on February 8, 1910. He provided essential funding for the fledgling organization. Boyce's generous financial contributions were critical at this stage. His donations came with only one condition, the BSA would include all boys, regardless of race or creed.

Edgar Robinson

Edgar Robinson was a YMCA youth worker. Some YMCA chapters were using Scouting materials and programs. He was concerned about their ability to ciontinue doing so when he read that William Randolph Hearsy and Bouce were incorporating Scout associations. He offered to manage the launch of the BSA for Boyce. In fact Boyce was unsure how to turn the BSA into a fuctioning youth operation. He decided to cooperate with Robinson and the YMCA. It was this group led by Robinson that was peimatily resoponsible fir creating an efficent national organization in ther criical first year of Scouting.

James West

James E. West was an attorney active on juvenile cases in Washington DC. He was recruited in 1911 as Executive Secretary largely by Robinson. West changed his title to Chief Scout Executive. He more than any other person created a well-organized national structure that was a key to the BSA's growth and reputation. He intended to make Scouting only a temporary diversion from his legal career, but that changed with the tremendous growth of the movement. West remained Chief Scout Executive from 1911 until he retired in 1943. Boyce did not, however, get along with West who saw Scouting has his own organization. As a result of the quarel and differences of opinion, West had Boyce's name virtually deleted from BSA records. BSA publications for years omitted his name.

Lone Scouts

Boyce learned that many boys who were interested in Scouting could not participate because trops did not exist in many isolated communities and small towns. He began a new scouting venture--the Lone Scouts of America (LSA). He generpously supported the program until it was merged with the BSA in 1924.

Later Years

Boyce died in Ottawa, Illinois during 1929.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: July 26, 2002
Last updated: July 26, 2002