* U.S. boy scouts : The 1920s

United States Boy Scouts: The 1920s

Figure 1.--This American Boy Scout wears the new shirt that was adopted in 1922, but with a tie rather than a kerchief. I'm not sure how common this was. Note the breeches.

The American Scout movement was relatively small until after World War I (1914-18). The War gave the movement a tremendous boost as patriotism soared. The movement grew significantly in the properous 1920s. A new uniform was adopted in 1922 to better diferentiate Scouting and the military. It was rapidly becoming an excepted part of an American boyhood, at least in small towns and cities to join the Boy Scouts. The organization became increasingly popular throughout the country and was supported by both schools and churches. Among other major developments in the 1920s, a new less militaristic uniform was adopted in 1922. Race continued to be a difficult issue for American Scouting duting the 1920s. Scouting in America during the 1920s continued to be an essentially all white movement, especially in the South.


The American Scout movement was relatively small until after World War I (1914-18). The War gave the movement a tremendous boost as patriotism soared. The movement grew significantly in the properous 1920s. It was rapidly becoming an excepted part of an American boyhood, at least in small towns and cities to join the Boy Scouts. The organization became increasingly popular throughout the country and was supported by both schools and churches.


Scouting in America during the 1920s continued to be an essentially all white movement, especially in the South. Some black trops were organized in the 1920s in the north. Relatively few blacks participated in integrated trops. As the organization of new troops was left up to the Councils, there were vurtually no black troops formed in the early 20s and only a few, almost all in border states during the remainder of the decade. There were reporredly 500 black Scours in Louisville Kentucky in 1924. An "advisory council" of prominent blacks acted under the supervision of the white counciol. This lack of black Scouting dod not begin the change until 1926. At that time the BSA convinced the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Foundation to provide the funds for a promotional campaign. I do not know the details pf the campaign, it may have been aimed more at the white councils than actual black youngsters. Gradually the white southern councils were persuaded to approve applications from black troops.


American Scouting continued developing during the 1920s and became a major part of middle-class boyhood.



The New York Times in 1921 inaugurated the Sunday Boy Scouts section.


Americans began to reexamine their participation in World War I in the 1920s. The Scouts gad played their role with many activities supporting the War effort. very soon after the War, many Americans concluded that it had allnbeen a great mistake. This was to lead to anti-war, pacifist, and isolationist movements. This affected Scouting The BSA for its part decided that a new uuniform was needed that was more clearly differentiated from the U.S. Army uniform. The new uniform was introduced in 1922. The BSA wanted to maintain the disciplined image of Scouting, but reduce confusion with the military. The BSA wanted to maintain para-military disciplne and a patriotic ethos. The new uniform had the neckerchief that proved popular with European Scouts and was perceived as boyish and without military connotations--although the calvary in the Indian campaigns had worn neckerchiefs. A shirt replaced the coat-like jacket and shorts were added to the uniform. Almost all boys, however, refused to wear then and continued wearing breeches and knickers, except when at Scout camps. [Macleod, p. 183.] Scouting was not limited to outdoor activiting and individual merit badge work. We note Scouts continued participate in parriotic event and public prades and events.


The BSA in 1923 strongly promoted the new uniform. We note Marion Burnell who became a Scout and got his new uniform in August 1923 when he turned 13 years old. A portait shows his brand new uniform without a scarf.


The Lone Scouts of America merged with the BSA in 1924. The BSA in 1924 began the "Every Scout a Swimmer" campaign.


The BSA membership first exceeds 1 million Scouts in 1925. The Junior Assistant Scoutmaster position created in 1925.

Figure 2.--This 1926 photograph of Camden, Indiana Scouts at the Gettysburg Battle site suggests that not all Scouts were wearing neckerchiefs in 1926. This was Crailor Troop, No.3 from Camden.


The BSA presented the first Silver Buffalo in 1926, of course to Baden-Powell and the second to the unknown British Scout who played such an important role in founding the American Scouting movement. The Silver Buffalo Award is awarded upon action of the National Execuitve Board of the Boy Scouts of America. This award is given to volunteer Scouters and other individuals for outstanding service to youth on a national basis or over a significant period of national service to a youth agency or in actions affecting youth. The Silver Buffalo Award is the traditional award presented to the Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America sometime during his term of office. Scouts participated in a variety of local public service activities. We note New York City Scouts participating in a campaign against reckless driving. We notice a Boy Scout fishing calendar. A movie "Scotty of the Scouts" is released in 1926. President Calvin Coolidge addresses the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America in Washington, D.C. (May 1, 1926). The President begins, "Members of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America: The strength and hope of civilization lies in its power to adapt itself to changing circumstances. Development and character are not passive accomplishments. They can be secured only through action. The strengthening of the physical body, the sharpening of the senses, the quickening of the intellect, are all the result of that mighty effort which we call the struggle for existence. Down through the ages it was carried on for the most part in the open, out in the fields, along the streams, and over the surface of the sea. It was there that mankind met the great struggle which has been waged with the forces of nature. We are what that struggle has made us. When the race ceases to be engaged in that great strength-giving effort the race will not be what it is now - it will change to something else. These age-old activities or their equivalent are vital to a continuation of human development. They are invaluable in the growth and training of youth. ...." Congress passed the Boy Scouts Association Act.


The BSA published the first major revision of Handbook for Boys in 1927. The BSA in 1927 Eagle Palms award. The BSA in 1927 moved the national office moved to 2 Park Avenue in New York. The BSA 17 years after the famed "unknown Scout" had done his good deed for William D. Boyce, the London boy who had refused a tip received the highest award the Boy Scouts of America could offer--the Silver Buffalo presented for "distinguished service to boyhood." The BSA regular Silver Buffalo award is a small replica of an American buffalo (bison), suspended from a white-and-red ribbon around the recipient's neck. For the unknown Scout, the award took the shape of a large bronze cast of a buffalo mounted on a wooden pedestal, erected at the International Boy Scout Training Center at Gilwell Park, England. The actual boy himself was not there for the ceremony. He was never found, but in his place was the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) to receive the award in his behalf from the American Ambassador, Alanson Bigelow Houghton. The Chief Scout, Baden-Powell, and other prominent men of Great Britain and the United States were also present as a plaque with a simple but eloquent inscription was unveiled: "To the Unknown Scout Whose Faithfulness in the Performance of the 'Daily Good Turn' Brought the Scout Movement to the United States of America."


The BSA issued a new "Boy Scout Handbook" in 1928. Sea Scout, Paul Siple, accompanied Admiral Byrd to the Antarctic in 1928. Paul was 19 years old nd from Erie, Pennsylvania. He had 59 merit badges and stood at the head of a group of six finalists. Byrd himself refused to make the choice. There was a nation-wide campaign of collecting, repairing and repainting of toys to be presented to poor children at Christmas time. Scouts participated in this project during December. The work was done under the supervision of local Scout Councils in some cities and as an individual troop project in others. The New York Times (February 25, 1928) had a story about the 150th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of alliance with France. It was celebrated on Bedlow's Island under the auspices of the Boy Scout Foundation of Greater New York assisted by representatives of various patriotic organizations. The Scouts see Jomor Franklin reappear to View the Wonders of Our Civilization. Municipal governments often supported Scouting. The Philadelphia City Council, for example, approved an ordinance allowing the Scouts to have their headquarters in a building on a parcel of public land "in perpetuity."


The registration of all Scouters authorized in 1929. Scout official Edward F. Reimer published an informative book, Matching Mountains with the Boy Scout Uniform. I don't quite understand the title, but the book is loaded with information about Scouting and the Boy Scout uniform. At the time, it was the only work on the Uniform authorized by the Boy Scouts of America. The New York stock market crashed in October 1929, ushering in the Great Depression, and affecting the avility of many boys to afford to participate in Scouting. The BSA sent a substantial contingent to the 3rd World Scout Jamboree in England. The Scouts wore a short pants uniform rather than the knicker uniform that most Scouts wore. The stock market crashed in 1929. The ensuing Depression would affect the ability of many boys to participate in Scouting.

Figure 3.--This boy was probably photographed about 1925 in the new uniform the BSA adopted in 1922.

The Uniform

We have collected some informtion on Scout uniforms during the 1920s. The boys still wore the Baden-Powell lemon squeezer hat. And knicker-like breeches continued to be worn.

Cub Scouts

There was no Cub Scouting in the 1920s. Younger boys were interested. Abd the British introduced Wolf Cubbing from n erly point. There was, however, differences within the BSA as to how to approach a Cub movement. Cubs were not officially authorized in America until the 1930s.

Boy Scouts

American Scouts in the 1910s and at the beginning of the 1920s seem to have worn an essentally military style uniform. The American Scout uniformns continued to be the khaki Army-style uniform after World War I (1914-18). and continued to look like American army uniforms. The BSA modernized its uniforms in 1922 to the style we would recognize today. The BSA sought to have a uniform that would not be mistaken for the army uniform. The boys wore the Smokey Bear type hats were retained. Coats and leggings were dropped. A shirt and neckerchiefs were added. Not all troops took to the neckerchief at first. Scouts could wear shorts and knee socks in the summer, knickers and knee socks in the winter. Unlike England, however, short pants were not commonly worn, instead scouts generally wore knickers with knee socks. The BSA made shorts pants a part of the uniform and encouraged their use. [Macleod, p. 183.] The boys, howver, were having none of it and refused to wear them--except at jamborees and camps. We have acquired little written information about the Scout uniform in the 1920s. Unfortunately, many early images are undates, so it is not claer of they were taken in the late 1910s or early 1920s.


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.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 5:28 AM 8/18/2014