Boys' Historic Uniforms: The 1930s

Figure 1.--Scoting was the preeminent youth group around the world where ever it was allowed to function. American Scouts in the 1930s continued wearing the Smokey the Bear hats. Notice the large kerchief this Scout is wearing.

Scouting was the preeminent youth group around the world. The Growth of totalitarian Goverments in the 1930s, however, limited the Movement. The Soviets and the Italians supressed Scouting in the 1920s. The Germans supressed Scouting in 1935? and the Japanese in 193?. I'm not sure what happened in Spain. Where ever Scouting was allowed to function, it became the leading youth movement. In most of Europe the movement was divided along religious and ethnic limes. Few had the comprehensve national associations as is the case of America and Britain. The Hitler Youth movement grew from a relatively small group before the NAZI take over in 1933 to a huge, comprehensive national youth movement. Other Fascist or right-wing movements sprang up in other European countries, but except in Greece were of limited importance. The history of boy's uniformed organizations and all of our lives were irevocably changed forever when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 initiating World War II.

Major Developments

The internationally oriented Scout movement faced the virulently natinalistic youth groups of the Fascist countries in the 1930s. Genenerally the Scouts were the movement most boys voluntarily chose, except when the Governments steped into to impose a state-controlled youth group. In some countrries such as Germany before the NAZIs seized power, there were strret clashed between youth groups. These are the boys which before the decade was over would face each other in the calderon of World War II. The children of democracy, British and American, would face the Hitler Youth boys embued with the Führer Principal.

Figure 2.--The Hitler Youth were a case study in inculcating national fervor, racial hate, and unquestioning obedience in preparation for a titantic military effort.

Germany: Hitler Youth

The NAZIs seized power in Germany during 1933. Soon the Scouts and other youth movements were closed or absorbed into the Hitler Youth. Scouting was not as dominate in Germany even before 1933, in part because the movement was to some extent asociated with the British. The Hitler Youth, however sinister its use, is probably one of the most effective uniformed youth groups ever created. It suceeded in moldling a modern country's youth for one of the most honrendous wars in human history. The Hitler Youth were eventually used to create military units with fought with great courage. The training helped to create a cadre of youth willing to pursue NAZI, a perfect pool of talent for the SS. Even those not joining the SS were prepared to execute policies no mater how heinous and cruel. The boys of the Hitler Union remained loyal to the Fehuer even as their country was desinigrating before their eyes.


Civil War brike out in Spain during 1936. General Francisco Franco led forced to oberthrow the Spanish Republic and by 1938 aided by NAZI Germany and Fascist Italy succeed in doing so. We do not, however, at this time have details on the Spanish Falange youth movement.

Greece: EON

Greece like neigboring countries was swept up in the 1930s with highly nationalistic sentiment. Fascist political parties fed on this sentiment. We know of one natioinalist uniformed groups, the Ethniki Organosi Neolaias (EON--National Organization of Youth) which operated from 1936-40. This was a Fascist organization sponsored by the filo-fascist dictator, Joannes Metaxas. EON was rather an anomally among European Fascist youth groups. This was because a Fascist dictatorship was established before World War II and then attacked by both the Italians and Germans. Greek's Fascist dictator successfully resisted the Italian invasion in 1940, but died before the German invasion in 1941. Greece's Fascist Government still wound up fighting against the Fascists in World War II. EON was very popular and boys and girls from democratic and even communist families joined. Unlike the Scouts, even children from poor families could participate in Scouting.

Other European countries

Politics became increasingly polarized in Europe during the 1930s. Many extreme right and left wing political parties formed youth auxilaries. These groups in most countries were minor and most boys preferre to join the Scouts if the could afford to do so. Only in the Fascist (Germany, Greece, Italy, and Spain) and Communist (Soviet Union) countries were the Scouts not the dominate youth movement. This changed in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Germany had already annexed Austria (1937) and occupied Czeceslovakia (1938-39). Scouting was prohibited by the Germans in all three countries.

Figure 3.--American Scouts held their first Jamboree in 1937. At the Jamboree they wore short pants, but knickers were more commonly worn at home for most Scout activities.


Despite the abolition of Scouting by the totalitarian countries, Scouting grew in those countries where it was still permitted. During the 1930s, Scouting expanded across the globe with international membership exploding from 2,100,000 to 4,500,000. The number of countries with Scout or Guide organizations doubled from 18 to 36. While created by a general with the idea of improving skills of use to the military, the Scouts promoted none of the para-military programs pursued by the Hitler Youth.

Many important developments occurred in Scouting during the 1930s despite the aboliy\tion of Scouting and appearance of state-controlled organization in many countries:
World jamboree: The fourth World Jamboree was held in Godollo, Hungary during 1933. It was attended by 406 American Scouts for a total of 26,000 Scouts from 46 countries. The fifth World Jamboree was held during 1937 in Vogelenzang, Holland. It was attended by 814 American Scouts for a total of 29,000 Scouts from 54 countries. The Scouting movement florished where ever it was allowed to operate, but the banning of Scouting in Germany, Italy, Russia and other countries significantly reduced the number of boys who could participate.
American scouting: American Scouts began Cubbing in 1930. The local BSA councils in 1931 presented the first Silver Beaver awards presented by local councils. The Roman Catholic Church in 1931 established the first religious award. The Mortimer L. Schiff Memorial Scout Reservation presented to the BSA in 1932. The BSA in 1933 established the Schiff Scout Reservation. The BSA in 1933 authorized the Exploring and Rovering programs and in 1934 approved the Order of the Arrow. Scouts in 1934 answered President Franklin Roosevelt's request to collect food and clothing for the needy and there were many as the Great Depression ravaged the country. Scouts throughout America in 1935 celebrated the Silver Jubilee (25 years) of American Scouting. The planned first National Jamboree in 1935 was cancelled due to epidemic of infantile paralysis. American Scouting membership in 1935 again passes 1 million. The BSA in 1935 introduced Senior Scouting for older boys. The BSA in 1936 held the first Wood Badge courses following the English syllabus. The BSA in 1936 published a new Handbook For Scoutmasters. The much anticipated 1st National Jamboree was held in 1937 at Washington, DC. Attendance exceeded 27,000. Waite Phillips in 1938 gave the BSA 36,000 acres in New Mexico for Philburn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp and it opens in 1939. The BSA added Air Scouting in 1939.
Gang shows: A Gang Show is a variety show staged by Scouts and Guides--generally to a high standard carrying on the very best traditions of Gang Show and the theatrical arts. Gang Show had its beginning in England in 1932 when a young Rover Scout, Ralph Reader, who was making a name for himself in theatrical circles. In fact, Ralph was already a famous and sought after choreographer on Broadway-- but his life took a remarkable twist after he wrote and produced the first Gang Show to raise money for a local swimming pool. Recognising the worth of this form of training, Baden-Powell encouraged Reader to continue. Gang shows are still most common in England, but are held by Scouts around the world.


Uniformed boys groups around the world almost uniformily had uniforms with short pants and kneesocks. One of the few exceptions was American Scouting. American Scouts in the 1930s continued wearing the Smokey the Bear hats with khaki shirts and knickers. The new American Cub Scouts wore a blue and gold uniform with a peaked cap like English Cubs, but knickers instead of short pants.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: June 7, 2002