The History of the Boy Scouts: A Timeline

Mar 21, 2023

As an organization, the Scouting America (BSA) has had a long history of teaching young Americans the values of service, preparedness, resourcefulness, and other aspects of leading an ethical life. But have you ever wondered how the history of Scouting America began, or how it developed into the organization it is today? Here are some of the most important moments in Boy Scout history

  • 1909-1910: William Boyce encounters the Unknown Scout. According to legend, American businessman William D. Boyce once got lost in the streets of London in 1909 and was guided to his destination by a British Scout. Boyce was impressed enough by the existing British Scouting organization—which had been established in the UK in 1907 by Lieutenant-General Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell—to found an American version of it. In 1910, the Scouting America was born.
  • 1935: The BSA introduces its “Senior Scout” division. As an extension of its existing Scouting program, the BSA created Senior Scout programs for boys 15 and older. These included the Sea Scouts, Air Scouts, Explorer Scouts, Rover Scouts, and more.
  • 1937: The first National Jamboree takes place. After the nation recovered from a polio epidemic, President Franklin Roosevelt announced that the first-ever Scouting National Jamboree would take place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. More than 27,000 Scouts attended, creating a massive encampment around the Washington Monument. The original BSA National Jamboree featured parades, patriotic events, and skills demonstrations.
  • 1949: The BSA introduces its Exploring program. The BSA combined most of the programs in its Senior Scout division under a new name called Exploring (Sea Scouts and Air Scouts remained separate programs). The eligible joining age was reduced to 14, and Scouts could earn a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Award in Exploring.
  • 1953: The first Pinewood Derby takes place. BSA’s iconic Pinewood Derby events were introduced by Donald Murphy, a Cubmaster in Manhattan Beach, California. Murphy loved carving model cars from wood and knew Scouts would love it, too. His design became the regulation standard for all future racing cars for this event.
  • 1969: Eagle Scout Neil Armstrong lands on the moon. History will always remember astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin (“Buzz”) Aldrin Jr. as being the first two people to walk on the moon. But did you know that Neil Armstrong was also an Eagle Scout? In fact, 11 out of 12 astronauts who have been to the moon were involved in Scouting.
  • 1969-1971: The BSA allows girls to join its Exploring programs. The BSA began allowing girls aged 14-20 to join a select number of its Exploring programs in 1969, then permitted full Exploring membership for teen girls and young women in 1971. This was the organization’s first step—which would further evolve over subsequent decades—in recognizing the abilities, accomplishments, and Scouting contributions of girls and women. 
  • 1974: Scouting becomes fully racially integrated. Although the BSA’s Inter-Racial Service worked since the mid-1920s to include boys of color in Scouting programs, the racial desegregation of troops moved slowly in Southern states. In 1974, the last all-Black troop was integrated. Since then, the BSA has taken multiple measures to address concerns around diversity and inclusion for Scouts of color and other marginalized groups.
  • 1988-1990: The first Scouting for Food program; women become BSA leaders. The BSA’s national food drive, Scouting for Food, emerged in 1988 from the “Do a Good Turn” service ethic. Participants collected non-perishable food items and donated them  to food banks. In addition, women were permitted to become Scout troop leaders for the first time; Catherine Pollard was the first to earn this title after years of “unofficial” work. In 1990, Mary Portis, a Black woman, became the first female Scout executive. 
  • 1998: The BSA introduces its Venturing program. Once the Senior Scout series of programs, then the Exploring iteration, the BSA’s 14-and-up Scouting groups were again reinvented. The Exploring program was split into two parts: Learning for Life and Venturing. The former program was designed to help Scouts discover and explore various career paths, while the latter became dedicated exclusively to outdoors-related activities. 
  • 2010: The BSA reaches its 100th anniversary. The BSA celebrated its 100th anniversary with a National Jamboree with the theme “Celebrating the Adventure, Continuing the Journey.” It included a parade in Washington, D.C. and was commemorated with its own first-class postage stamp issued by the US Postal Service.
  • 2014-2015: Non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people can join the BSA. The BSA’s national governing body ruled that no Scout or adult Scouting leader can be banned or expelled from involvement with the BSA purely on the basis of identifying as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender).
  • 2019: The BSA changes its program name and allows girls to become Scouts. Following its decision to allow girls aged 11-17 to become Scouts (including Cub Scouts and regular Scouts, not just Explorers), the Scouting America officially changed its program name from Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA. 

Make Your Mark in History With BSA Laurel Highlands Council

If you live in the western parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, or West Virginia, enrolling your child in the Scouting America Laurel Highlands Council is an excellent way for them to become proficient in backpacking and camping. 

Scouting’s programs and outdoor adventures give young people equal opportunities to try new things, provide service to others, build self-confidence, and develop leadership skills. These experiences not only help Scouts while they are young, but help them grow into exceptional men and women that respect their family, community, religion, country and themselves.

The Scouting America Laurel Highlands Council serves youth members and volunteer adult leaders throughout Western Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, and parts of West Virginia. We aim to beneficially involve every eligible child and their family in the fun and adventure of our programs. We provide extraordinary youth development programs that develop and strengthen the values of the Scout Oath and Law. However, we can’t do it without you. Give today!

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