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BSA History

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell

William D. Boyce circa 1912

Troop 10 from Columbus, Ohio, 1918



Scouting began in England in 1907-08 and was created by General Robert Baden-Powell. B-P was one of the few heroes to come out of Britain's South African ('Boer') War. He was known primarily for his unusual ideas about military scouting, explained in his book "Aids to Scouting". Startled to discover that many boys were using his military book as a guide to outdoor activities, he began to think how he could convert his concepts of army scouting for men to "peace scouting" for boys. Gathering ideas from many sources (including Ernest Thompson Seton, who had founded a boys organization in the US), he tested his program on a group of boys on Brownsea Island in 1907. The island camp was successful, so B-P rewrote his military book, calling it Scouting for Boys. The climate was right for a youth program like Scouting, and it spread quickly around the British commonwealth, then to other countries.

Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

W.D. Boyce was an American newspaper man and entrepreneur who stopped in London en route to a safari in British East Africa. According to legend, an unknown Scout came to his aid by helping to guide him to his destination. The boy then refused Boyce's tip, explaining that he was merely doing his duty as a Boy Scout. Upon Boyce's request, the unknown Scout gave him the address of the Scout headquarters, where Boyce went on his own and picked up information about the group. When Boyce returned to London after his safari, he again visited the Scout headquarters and gained the use of Scouting for Boys in the development of a US Scouting program.

The BSA was officially founded by Boyce on February 8, 1910. At that time in the US, there were several other loosely structured outdoor-oriented youth organizations. Some were using the name "Boy Scout" and some were using other names, but there were already a number of troops in existence using some variation of the British Scout program. Boyce's key contribution was to organize the BSA as a business. He incorporated the organization, recruited key youth professionals (in particular from the YMCA) to design and operate the program. Boyce provided key funding for the infant organization.

YMCA— To a great extent, the YMCA operated the BSA during its first year, particularly YMCA executive Edgar Robinson, who first suggested to Boyce that the YMCA was well positioned to provide structure and leadership to his fledgling Boy Scouts of America. Robinson set up the first BSA office next to his in Manhattan, and recruited YMCA official John Alexander to be the BSA's first 'managing secretary'.