United States Boy Scout Uniforms: American Boy Scouts (ABS)

Figure 1.--This is the ABS shield which was worn on the left sleeve of the jacket. It was worn well down on the sleeve, almost to the elbow. There were also ABS buttons, but I am not sure about other badges.

The BSA has dominated American Scouting. This has, however, involved Federal legislation and extensive legislation. They were not the only contenders. There had been earlier attempts at Scouting. And there was a rival association in the 1910s. The most serious contention was launched by the American Boy Scouts (ABS), at first powerfully supported by newpaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst soon disowned the ABS. Considerable acrimony developed between the two associations, in part over the issue of soliciting funds from the piblic. The ABS continued operating for several years under different names, but disappeared in the 1920s.

Earlier Efforts

Seveal youth organizations were launched in America in the late 19th and 20th century. Some were based on a Scouting program. Two were especially important and greatly influenced Baden-Powell who incorporated, if not out right stole many of their ideas. None of these groups, however, were able to muster the organizational skills to create a genuinely national mass organization.

Competing Organization

One of the competing organizations at the founding of the BSA was the American Boy Scouts, ABS. This program would prove to be a thorn in the BSA's sides for a number of years and eventually lead to a lawsuit. As William D. Boyce and others were forming the Boy Scouts of America, William Randolph Hearst was meeting with men in the New York area for the formation of a Scouting organization. Overtures were made from the already incorporated BSA to the ABS organizing group but Hearst did not want to team up.

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst is one of those larger than life figures in American history. He was born in 1863, in San Francisco, California. William was the only child of George Hearst, a self-made multimillionaire miner and rancher and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. As a lark in 1887, at the ahe of 23 he became "Proprietor" of the San Francisco Examiner a failing newspaper. His fatherhad accepted as payment for a gambling debt and had no idea what to do with it. To everone's suprise young Hearst took the paper seriously and went on to found the graetest newspaper chain in American history. The movie classic "Citizen Cain" is loosely based on his life.

British Boys Scouts

The competition between the BSA and the ABS in some ways parallels the competion between Basen Powell's Boy Scouts and the rival British Boys Scouts which objected to the militarism of early British Scouting. There was some attempts at cooperation between the BBS and the ABS. The difference in America is that there appears to have been little phiolosophical difference between the BSA and the ABS. In Britain there were major differencces between the two rival associations and although the BBS lost the competition, it had a major impact on Baden Powell's Scouts and the worls Scouting movement. There were elements in the BSA that were concerned about militarism in America Scouting. Ernest Seaton was the most outspoken critic.

ABS Launched

The Hearst papers launched the American Boy Scouts in May 1910. Some believe that this was basically a gimick to boost circulation and that he had nor real interest in Scouting. [Macleod, p. 146.] The BSA through Edgar Robinson and Ernesr Seaton tried to convince Hearst to join the ABS with the BSA, but he flatly refused. [Peterson]

ABS Uniform

We do not yet have detailed information on the ABS uniform. It appears to have been brown rather than olive green. Of course this is impossible to destinguoish in the black-and-white photographic record. The uniform was very similar to the BSA uniforms, including a long jacket and knickers/breeches. We think they also wore the wide-brimmed hat so associated with Scouting. We are not sure if there was a standard kerchief. One we note was yellow. The ABS patch seen here was worn on the right shoulder (figure 1). We do not yet have photographs of ABS Scouts, but of course some od the Scour images in the archieve could be HBS Scouts as the uniform was so similar. Spotting the shoulder patch seems the best way of identifying the ABS Scouts in old photographs. we do have images of an ABS vintage uniform. There also were destinctive buttons on the uniform, but of course that is impossible to identify in photographs. Althoygh dark buttons on light-colored uniforms might show up.

Hearst Disowns the ABS

ABS was incorporated in June 1910 but Hearst soon became disillusioned. Hearst within a few months disowned the the ABS, charging fraud. [Macleod, p. 147.] He formally dropped his support publishing his reasons in his newspapers during December 1910. He became concerned about the conduct of the Board of Directors and their fund-raising efforts. Both the methods used and the keeping of significant portions of the monies raised were some of his concerns.

Continued Operations

After Hearst exited the ABS, it continued under leaders without a national reputation. Considerable acrimony developed between the rival groups. BSA officials charged that the ABS drilled boys with rifles. Perhaps the most serious charge was that the ABS sent boys out in Scout uniforms to solicit funds, creating confusion with the BSA. [Macleod, p. 147.] One principle that Baden-Powell insisted on and was followed by the BSA was not to use Scouts in uniform to solicit funds. Much of the impetus behind the BSA's drive to become the only legal form of Boy Scouting in America stemmed from a wish to eliminate these competitors.

Attempts for a Federal Charter

The ABS, under the name United States Boy Scouts, also attempted to receive a federal charter in 1916 hampering the BSA's efforts along those lines.


Because of continuing fund-raising abuses and what was believed to be intentional confusion of names, the BSA brought suit against the ABS/USBS. In 1918, a New York Supreme Court consent decree was issued barring the USBS from using the terms "Boy Scout," "Scout" or "Scouting" or any variation. During the proceedings, Baden-Powell provided a deposition.

BSA Wins

The 1916 Congressional charter, which supercedes the previous incorporation of the BSA in 1910, gives a monopoly to it on the use of the name "Scouts," and on insignia and phrases used in scouting. The House Judiciary Committee, reporting on the bill to charter the BSA, cited the public services rendered by Scouts, including service in floods, war-bond collection, and as "an auxiliary force in the maintenance of public order." The committee added:

The importance and magnitude of its work is such to entitle it to recognition and its work and insignia to protection by Federal incorporation. If any boy can secure these badges without meeting the required tests, the badges will soon be meaningless, and one of the leading features of the Scout program will be lost.

BSA Monopoly

Since 1916, the BSA has used this federal monopoly to crush potential rivals. In 1917 it sued the United States Boy Scouts, previously known as American Boy Scouts, and that organization disappeared. Several other versions of scouting were absorbed on a friendly basis. The BSA is definitely a business that protects its monopoly in court. As recently as 1989, it threatened the Wilderness Scouts of Blairsville, Georgia. Thus, the congressional Charter of 1916 has effectively been made into a decree: outside of the Girl Scouts, which received a similar congressional charter in 1954, only one form of scouting can exist in the United States, and that form is the BSA.

U.S. Boy Scouts

A group called the United States Boy Scouts (USBS) was briefly active in the 1910s. In actuality it was the Hearst ABS under a new name. After the BSA received an exclusive Federal charter in 1916, the USBS was forced to change its name again. They renamed themselves the American Cadets. It was managed by men with a right-wing political agenda of "100-percent Americanism". In a country composed of large numbers of immigrants this significantly limited the groups appeal. The American Cadets seemed less interested in youth work and developing a program appealing to boys. While this had some appeal during World War I, this feeling declined rapidly after the War. The Ameican cdets, according to one historian "followed the crest of postwar nativism into oblivion." [Macleod, p. page 157.]


HBU has no information at this time on the ABS uniforms or the USBS and American Cadets. The ABS seem to have worn uniforms like the BSA Scouts which were essentially based on U.S. Army uniforms.


Macleod, David I. Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 315p.

Peterson, Robert. "The BSA's 'forgotten' founding father," Scouting Magazine.


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Created: June 24, 2000
Last updated: 7:29 PM 4/15/2011