*** U.S. boy scouts

United States Boy Scouts

World Jamboree 1929
Figure 1.--American and German Scouts at the 1929 World Jamboree. A decade later these same boys would be locked in a titantic struggle for the vary future of the world--World War II. American Scouts wore short pants at jamborees and camps, but usually they wore knickers.

The Scouting movement was founded by Lord Baden-Powell in England. Individual Americans and American boys' organizations played a major role in the movement. American Scouting can trace its history to both domestic and English influences. Some important steps leading to the founding of the American Boy Scouys were layed before the turn of the century. An important book in the development of scouting was published in 1882, the American Boys Handybook written by Daniel Carter Beard. Some early Scout groups were founded in America even before, the famed unknown English Scoutincident in London. The Scouting movement as conceptualized by Baden-Powell was quickly accepted in many countries without major changes, including the uniform. American played a major role in the program that was finally conceived by Baden-Powell. When American Scouting was founded, existing organizations were incoroprated into it. Despite the importance of the Boy Scouts in America, the Scouting movement has not been the subject of extensive academic analysis. Many scholars have not considerd it of sufficent importance. There has been a great deal written about Scouting, but mostly self-congratulatory tomes from within the movement. The American Scouting movement followed much of the program created by Baden-Powell, American Scouts did not, however, follow the uniform conceived by Baden-Powell and adopted by virtually every other country. American Scouts insisted on wearing knickers rather than short pants.


Despite the importance of the Boy Scouts in America, the Scouting movement has not been the subject of extensive academic analysis. Many scholars have not considerd it of sufficent importance. There has been a great deal written about Scouting, but mostly self-congratulatory tomes from within the movement. One scholar who has published an insightful analysis writes, "Among established American institutions, few have been more successful or paradoxical than the Boy Scouts of America. Here is an organization patterned after the ideas of a British general, a highly bureaucratic institution that, for more than seventy years, has attempted to build character among middle-class adolescent American boys through adult-supervised badge-winning and camping. Professing class-less values, it has drawn its strength from white, Protestant, middle-class society. Enormously appealing to adults, the program has generally failed to hold the interest of boys for more than a few years - and yet the BSA burst upon the American scene in a blaze of success early in the (twentieth) century, and to this day, while its teachings may seem naive and outdated, it enrolls millions of boys in every part of the country." [Macleod]


American Scouting can trace its history to both domestic and English influences. Some important steps leading to the founding of the American Boy Scouys were layed before the turn of the century. An important book in the development of scouting was published in 1882, the American Boys Handybook written by Daniel Carter Beard. Some early Scout groups were founded in America even before, the famed unknown English Scout introduced ??? to Scouting. Woodcraft Indians were founded by Ernest Thompson Seton in 1902. Sons of Daniel Boone started by Daniel Carter Beard in 1905. Boy's Clubs were founded in 1906. The first American Boy Scout camp was held at Silver Bay, Lake George, N.Y. in 1910. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) were incorporated in 1910. The first local councils chartered in 1913. The BSA issued 57 merit badge books in 1915, the first such detailed instructions issued for this important phase of Scouting. The U.S. Congress granted a Federal Charter in 1916 and in that same year the BSA constitution and by-laws were adopted. American Cubbing was introduced in 1930 so that younger boys could participate. Scouting grew to be the major youth group in America with a substantial proportion of American boys particiapting in Cubs or Scouts. Modern boys have many more options and demands on their time, but Scouting continues to be a major activity for many American boys.

American Boy Scouts 1920s
Figure 2.--HBU estimates that this Scout was probably photographed about 1925. The boy is wearing the uniform forst introduced by the BSA in 1922. American Boys Scouts until the 1940s mostly wore breeches or knickers.

Social Class

The Boy Scouts in Britain were a largely middle-class movement in part because of the cost of participating and other factors, including the increasing acceptance of socialist thought on the part of the working class. The rising British labor movement rejected many of the principles that Scouting upheld as well as the militaristic image and support for the existing social structure. U.S. class divisions were less distinct and in fact blurred by both racial and ethnic diversity. A large and increasing part of the American population saw itself as part of the middle-class. In addition the public school system and the greater religious commitment of Americans of all class brought Scouting to a wider proportion and cross section of the population. The religious factor was important because so many troops were sponsored by initially the YMCA and subsequently churches. Private schools were not as important in America and the Scout uniform had none of the class connotations that it did in Britain. [Macleod, pp. 222-223.] The BSA added an element of social control, directed at mainly middle and upper middle income youths who might be (to borrow the modern term) "at risk" for social deviancy.


As in so much of American history, race has and continues to play an important role in Scouting. Race was as a factor in early American Scouting, especially in the South where early Scouters were determined to prevent black boys from entering the movement. The fact that the Baden Powell's Boys Scouts eventually decided upon an inclusive international approach to Scouting meant that to participate that an exclusive white program could not be mauntained, despite the attitudes of many in the movement. William D. Boyce who founded the Scouting movement in America was adament that it should be open to boys of all races and creeds--but his view was not shared by many. Even in the north, Scouting in America from the beginning was a highly segregated activity. This is in part because many of the early sponsors were schools (many of which were segregated by law or demographic patterns) and churches (except for the Catlolics are among the most segregated institutions in America). Until the 1970s, fewer blacks than whites have particiapted in Scouting. A factor here is cost. We suspect that that there are other factors as well, some relating to why Scouting has had less appeal to the working-class in England. Many of the blacks that have participated have done so in largely black troops. This continues to be the case today. In fact Scouting is one of the most segregated youth activity in America. This is not because of BSA policy, but because of econonomic, cultural, and demographic trends in America.

Militarism and Scouting

Scouting Image

A factor which has affected Scoting in America, especially among older boys, is the goody-goody image of the movement. This goody-goody image is related to some extent with social-class factors. To many a smartly uniform. well disciplined Scout projects a middle-class image of rectitude and proper rearing while poorly dressed, boys larking about projects the image of the indolent, pporly raised working class. Scouts might be taunted by other boys because of the orgnization's goody-goody image. I remember in the 1950s that in our elementary schools there was a Scouts day once a week in which boys and girls proudly wore their uniforms. There was no taunting, but this was a middle-class neighborhood of Washington, DC. Notably boys did not wear their uniforms to high school. The uniform in part projected this image. This was not a particular problem in the 1920s when most noys wore knickers, but fewer boys were wearing knickers, especially by the late 1930s. Both rich and poor boys had worn knickers in America, but short oants were much more common with boys from affluent than pooer families. This shorts acquired a kind of little rich boy, goody-goody image. This was part of the reason that short pants were not commonly worn by American Scouts, even after the BSA Nation Headquarters began promoting shorts in the 1920s. Short pants apparently "... so mortified the poorer boys that Scoutnaster A.H. Durieux of Paterson, New Jersey, reported they flatly refused to go bare-kneed." [Macleod, pp. 222-223.]

Rival Associations

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, two of which were very important influences on the Scouting movement. 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 like William D. Boyce who founded the BSA were both newspaper publishers. There were several other rival associations, but only the ABC was ever a serious challenge. America unlike Scouts in European countries was to have one single monolithic association--the BSA.


American Boy Scouts are organized into troops which are the organization's primary operating unit. Actually the overall organization of the BSA is more complicated. The names of the operation units vary depending on the level. The operating units are: packs (Cubs), troops (Scouts), teams (Varsity Scouts), (teams), crews (Venturers), and ships (Scouts). These unitrs are further broken down into smaller groups. Scout troops are composed of patrols and Cub packs are comosed of dens. Cub Scout packs are normally linked to a Scout troop and share the number. Most boys are either Cubs or Scouts, the other levels are much smaller. The trrops and packs belong to regional groups called councils. Most states have several councils. Some organized around metroplitan areas span state boundaries.


The BSA registered as a corporation. They did not receive government funding, but Congress passed a law giving the BSA and later the Girl Scouts the exclusive right to use the name Scouting. Other groups were free to organize youth groups, but they could not use the term "Scout" or "Scouting". Many European countries have multiple Scout associations because no one group had the right to call themselves Scouts. In the United States only the Boy Scouts (BSA) and Girl Scouts had the right to organize the Scouting movement.,


American Scout troops were organized and supported by various groups, including fratenal orders, municipalities, schools, and religious groups. There was from the beginning a religious component to Scouting--Christianity. As the movement began in Britain and quickly spread to America and Europe, Scouting took on a non-denominational, but still Christian orientation. Scout camps promoted Sunday services which accomodated boys of various denominations. As Scouting spread to non-Christian countries, the movement gradually became more inclusive of other religions. In America this meant primarily Jews, the principal non-Vhristian religious group. In some cases synagogues sponsored Scout troops, but there were troops that were organized by schools and other groups that had mixed religious composition. The religious component of Scouting has varied. Of course the troops organized by churches and synagogues were made up of mostly boys of that denomination. The Church-sponsorded troops had religion as an important component of the program which was not the case for the school-sponsored troops. Since World War II schools have tended to move away from sponsoring troops. Churches and other religious bodies have become increasingly important in promoting Scouting. The Boy Scouts are the official boys� youth group of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons--LDS). One source suggests that more than 10 percent of American Scouts are now Mormons. ["Controversy ...] As the BSA has become increasingly associated with conservative religious groups in recent years. This may be a factor in the declining membership. While the BSA has accomodated a wide range of religious groups, they have no accomodated athesists.

Girl Scouts

The Boy Scouts as the name suggests was an all boy organization. Girl Scouting was introduced to America by an entirely separate organization. This was the general practice around the world. The Girl Scouts of America (now the Girl Scouts of the USA) were founded in 1912. The founder was Juliette "Daisy" Low. The Girl Scouts are the only U.S. youth organization, other than the BSA, to obtain a Congressional Charter. It was, however, granted years after the BSA charter. The Girl Scouts did not manage to gain their charter until 1950. The term Girl Scout was an American inovation, due primarily because Low wanted girls to match the boys. She wanted a separatre organization, but did not want the girls to have a different which would have been preceived to have been a weaker program than the boys. In other countries girl Scouts were called girl Guides to differentiate themselves from the boys. The Scout/Guide distinction has been ended in many countries, where boys and girls now participate in coed associations troops. In other countries, the Boy Scout and Girl Guide programs have common national organization, but with separate troops for Scouts and Guides. In still other countries (such as the United States), the boys' and girls' organizations are entirely separate. Actually the BSA in the 1980s gave some thought to combining, but they the Girl Scouts dismissed the very idea of it.

Sponsoring Organizations

One of the important issues concening Scouting was who would sponsor Scout troops. This was especially important at the beginning of the movement as the task of organizing large numbers of new troops provided a challenge. Here the YMCA played an especially important role in the early years of the American Scouting movement. The sponsoring organization of course had a significant imapct on the membership and activity. What group sponsored a Scout troop could have considerable impact on the uniform as well, especially the importance given to the uniform by each individual Troop.


The age range for American Scoutin has varied over time. The upper limit for Scouts has always been 18 years of age. The lower limit, however, has varied. The entry age was 12 years old. This continued ubtil Cubbing was introduced allowing younger boys to enter the Scoiting movement at age 8 years. The 12-year old limit continued for the Scouts. This age limit was maintained for the first 40 years of Scouting. Then the BSA began reducing the age limit, efeflecting a trend fro older boys to leave or not join the Scouting movement. The BSA lowered the entry age to 11 in 1949. Another changed followed with the BSA making a minor adjustmehnt. The entry age was lowered this tome to 10-1/2 yers, but only if a boy had finished tge 5th Grade. The BSA made another change in 1988, when the entry age was further modified to permit a boy to join either at age 11, or upon completion of Fifth Grade regardless of his age or upon gaining the Webelos Arrow of Light badge. This was a bit complicated. The BSA in 2004 simplified the entry age at 10 years. No all boys, however, make the transition from Cubbing and Scouting when they turn age 10. Many stay with the Cubs until they feel comfortable making the change.

American Scout Jamboree
Figure 3.--This 1953 photograph shows a group of Scouts and Exolorers at the 1953 National Jamboree, they wear the round Jamboree patch. The exporers wore characteristic forrest green shirts with regular Scouts. Notice the mix of campaign and large brimmed baseball-style caps.


American Scouting was slow to adopt Cubbing, in part because of Beard's objections. Seaton had been a strong proponent if Cubbing. Cubbing was finally adopted in 1930. Other levels of Scouting for older and younger boys were also gradually introduced. The Tiger Cub program, is the newsest Scout program for the youngest boy. American Scouting was slow to adopt Cubbing, in part because of Beard's objections. Seaton had been a strong proponent if Cubbing. The Boy Scouts of America in 1930 funally created a new opportunity called Cub Scouting for boys younger than Boy Scout age. Seaton was brought back tio get the priogram started. A Wolf Cub program had long been a part of English Scouting. The BSA describes Cubbing as, "A year-round, home-centered program used by chartered organizations, Cub Scouting emphasizes involvement between boys and their parents, adult leaders, and friends. In the multi-dimensional plan of the Boy Scouts of America, Cub Scouting is where it all begins." The Boy Scout movement which began sprining up all over America was incorporated in 1910 and rapidly eclipsed or incoprporated several similar organizations. It was incorporated in 1910 and has since become the premier boys' unifornmed organization in America. The Boy Scouts initial emphasis was on outdoor activities and camping. This has continued, although the Scouting movement has at times toyed with demphasizing traditional Scouting to make the movement more appealing to modern boys. Such efforts have had mixed results. The Scouts try to keep current with modern life. While considerable emphasis is still given to outdoor activities, a variety of distinctly modern actibities such as rocketry, electronics, and computers now make up the Scout program. Boy Scouts officials increasingly understand that today's boys has many more activities available to him than in the past and that Scouting will never be as dominate in the American's boys' experience that it once was. The Explorer program is for older boys--the equivlent of Rover Scouts in many other countries.

Scout Uniforms

The earliest American scout uniforms were military-style khaki uniforms similar to U.S. army uniforms. There have since many three major revisions of the Scout uniform (1922, 194?, and 1981). There have also been new levels introduced such as Cub Scouts and Explorers with uniforms for these groups. Most American Scouts through the 1930s wore knickers rather than the short pants worn by British and European Scouts. Interestingly, American Scouts now commonly wear short pants while it is becoming less common for European Scouts to wear shorts or for that matter any uniform at all.


Early American Boy Scouting had a wide range of activities that are now seen as traditional Scouting. Central to early Scouting was hiking and camping. There was of course much more involved. Thanks to Dan Beard there were many frontier skills like archery, camp craft, hunting, riflery, stalking, and outdoor skills. Beards' books The Boy Pioneers and the The Sons of Daniel Boone! were an important source of activites for early Scouts. Earnest Seaton helped introduced Indian lore including ceremonies, dancing, and handicrafts. His book The Birch Bark Rollwas another important source of activities. Many skills were adopted by Scouts around the world, such as cooking, First Aide, knot tieing, and swiming. Scouting has evolved over the years. Boys are esprcially interested in technoloy. Thus as new technologies developed, they were added to the Scouting program, including" computers, morse code, radio, rocketry, and much more. There also have been special activities such as in time of national emergency.


Camping was at the beginning of the Scout movement the most popular activity. Scouting was a first organized around camping. The camps were at first makeshift affairs held in rural areas with the permission of local landowners. Gradually as the movement gained momentum, local Scout groups purchased land and built permanent facilities for camping. Pergapd the best known American camp is the Philmont Scout ranch, but many Scout Councils now operate camps throughout the country. Most camps had regulations about the uniforms to be worn. As the major season for caming was the summer after school was out, many camps selected the short pants uniform. American Scouts, especially Scouts in the northern states, did not wear shorts until the 1970s. This often meant that the boys had to buy a special uniform for the camp.


The first American Scout Jamboree was held in 1937. They have been held at different intervals and at different locations around the country, including both costs. In one year the jamboree was held at two sites simultaneously. Jamborees are now held every 4 years at a permanent site--Fort Polk, Virginia near rederickburg. Scences from the various jamborees are a good indicator of changing uniform styles. All the Jamborees have required the short pants uniform, even when most Scouts were wearing knickers or long pants.

American Scout camps jamborees
Figure 4--American Scouts unlike Scouts at other countries until the 1940s mostly wore knickers. They did wear shorts when going to camps and jamborees.

Overseas Scouts

Not many Americans lived overseas before World War II. This changed after the War with the onset of the Cold War. The United States supported friendly goverments around the world. And with the creation of military bases, families often followed their military fathers/husbands overseas. Other Americans such as diplomats and businessmen lived oversaeas, but the military experience was different. Many overseas Americans inteegrated into the local community. Children often went to loval schools. The military often created little Americas around the world. Families often lived on these bases. They built schools and churches. And as part of this they organized Cub Packs and Scout Troops. Thus rather than joining local Scout groups, they organized American Scouting overseas. One HBU reader tells us about being in a Cub Pack in Italy. Another reader tells us about American Scouts in Britain.

Uniform Conventions

American Scouts have somewhat different conventions concerning the uniform than some other country's Scouts, especially the English. American Scouts tend to wear uniform most of the time in camp, whereas British practice is to get the kids out of uniform as soon as possible, in order to keep the uniform itself crisp for formal occasions.

Uniform Policies

American Scouters report all kinds of different policies and experiences concerning uniforms. Some troops have very strict uniform regulations while others let the boys wear what ever they want to.


We have some information on individual Scouts. Some U.S. Scouters have provided us their personal experiences concerning their Cub and Scout experiences. We also have some portraits thast we have been able to identify. Please send along a short write up of your experiences so we can add to our accounts here.

Marion Burnell (1923)

Marion Burnell from Sound Bend, Washiongton who was turning 13 years old had his portrait taken in a brand new Scout uniform. It was the uniform just aopted by the BSA in 1922. He has the complete uniform including the official BSA hatchet.

Chris in Maryland (The 1950s)

Chris recalls wearing long pants as a Cub in the affluent Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. during the 1950s. When he moved on to Scouts, however, the uniform was shorts and kneesocks.

Dennis in Washington (1950s)

I remember being an enthussiastic Cub. I joined the Cubs in 1951. None of us Cubs wore short pants, although my older brother had worn knickers as a Cub. In those days we really liked our uniforms. There was no wearing Cub shirts with jeans--we wore the full uniform, including the peaked cap. We all wore long pants. I never rember seeing a Cub wearing short pants. There were sme Cubs that wore shorts in the 1940s and 50s, but they were a small minority. Certainly I never saw any. A European reader asks, "I' ve seen scores of pics of American cubs and scouts in shorts. Again regional differences, or do they belong to another scouting organization?" Scouts are a bit complicated, but very few Cubs wore shorts and kneesocks. Some images appeared in Scout publications and Norman Rockwell drawings, the Boy Scout Association were promoting sorts, but in fact few of us Cubs wore them. Scouting was different, many Scout camps and the national Jamboree insisted in shorts. Until the 1970s, it was very rare to see an American Cub in shorts. I have a HBC page.

Eric and Scouting (The 1950s-60s)

Eric tells us, "I was an avid Scout right through Cubs to Eagle Scout. I was always turned out properly for the program. I've seen it mentioned on the HBC sites, that American Cub Scouts wore long pants, and that American Boy Scouts wore shorts in the 1950s and 1960s. I dug out some of the old family 35 mm slides, and sure enough that is exactly what I found."

Ronald J. McAlister (1949)

Here we see a newly minted Boy Scout in 1949. Scouting was immensly popular in America at the time. He is identified as Ronald J. McAlister. Ronald may have just moved uo from the Cubs. We think he has just joined because his unform only has the troop number and no other patches except the BSA Scout patch on his garrison-style cap. This was a style that replaced the venerable but not vert practical campaign hat in the early-1940s. Americans also call them overseas caps. The BSA tended to follow U.S. Army styles at the time. This would remnain the official American Scout cap into the early-1980s. Ronald looks to be about 12-13 years old. He also wears the large scarfe that was still popular, We know nothing else about Ronald except that he was from San Bernadino, California.

Ordering Scout Uniforms

The BSA initially sold Scout uniforms and equipmet through its Department of Scout supplies. BSA publications show that this was a major undertaking by 1919, pronably earlier as well. Uniforms have also been sold through mail order firms. I believe that Penny's Sears, and Ward have all sold Scout uniforms under contract with the BSA. I'm hazzy on this, but I sem to recall in the 1950s going to a Sears store to be fitted for my Cub uniform. Penny's for example appears to have been the major distributor in the 1970s. Scout shops as were common in Britain, appear to have been less common in America. Today the internet is a major way of distributing Scout uniforms.


We have compiled a list of youth group publication, but have not yet indexed them by country. The BSA had, however, a very active publication program. One BSA series was the Honor Bright Boy's Handbook was done in several printings during the 1920s. "Honor Bright" referred to a Scout's honor and good deads.


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.

"Controversy: Read, Write and Scout," Newsweek (November 24, 2003). I'm not entirely sure about the date. I got the refeence from the Newsweek website and there dating procedure is confusing.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 4:22 PM 6/24/2023