A Brief Background of
Scouting in the United States
1910 to Today

This brief history was researched and written by Scoutmaster Jeff Snowden in 1984, and has been continually updated since. It is based on considerable research (see reference list at the end) and personal experience. The history is intended to be accurate and factual, but of course will contain some personal interpretations of events. Corrections of fact are always welcome.




Scouting began in England in 1907-08, created by General Robert Baden-Powell. B-P, a 50-year old bachelor at the time, was one of the few heroes to come out of Britain's 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.

World Scouting Today

Today, Scouting is found in 185 of the world's 192 independent countries. The United States has a single national Scouting organization (there are a number of countries, mostly in Europe, that have several separate Scout organizations, divided by religion or language, with different uniforms, advancement, and national hierarchies). Scouting is the world's most successful youth movement. [More information on World Scouting can be found on our International Scouting page.]

Scouting in the United States

Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

William Boyce. The Boy Scouts of America (which also uses the name Scouting/USA) was founded by Chicago publisher William Boyce on February 8, 1910. At that time in the US, there were several other loosely-structured outdoor-oriented youth organizations, some using the name "Boy Scout" and some using other names, and 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 (in Washington, DC, rather than Chicago), recruited key youth professionals to design and operate the program, and he provided key funding for the infant organization.

Early Actions. The new BSA quickly established a national office, developed a temporary handbook, sought out Baden-Powell's endorsement (which they got), and began to work to get a Congressional Charter from the US Congress (which they got in 1916). They also began an active campaign to absorb all other Scout-type youth organizations into the BSA. Indeed, only one such organization held out past 1912—publisher William Randolph Hearst's militaristic "US Boy Scout" organization (founded only three months after the BSA, and a member of the Order of World Scouts, a mostly British program in competition with Baden-Powell's program). Resorting to the federal courts, and aided by their Congressional Charter and testimony from Baden-Powell, the BSA obtained a favorable ruling against the "US Boy Scout" in 1919.

The Founders. Two people influenced the BSA's development more than any others: Ernest Thompson Seton and James West. It is difficult to imagine what our program would be like today had either of these men not been involved.

Ernest Thompson Seton. Seton, a famous writer and artist, had founded a loosely-structure boys' program called the Woodcraft Indians around 1902. Seton had also visited England in 1904, where he met with Baden-Powell and gave him a copy of his manual for the Woodcraft Indians. B-P used many of Seton's ideas as he developed his Boy Scouting program. Indeed, Seton's introduction to the Original Edition of the BSA's Boy Scout Handbook makes it clear that he considered himself to be the real founder of the World Scouting movement: "In 1904, I went to England to carry on the work [of fostering a "Woodcraft and Scouting movement"] there, and, knowing General R. S. S. Baden-Powell as the chief advocate of scouting in the British Army, invited him to cooperate with me, in making the movement popular. Accordingly, in 1908 he organized his Boy Scout movement, incorporating the principles of the [Woodcraft] Indians with other ethical features bearing on savings banks, fire drills, etc., as well as by giving it a partly military organization, and a carefully compiled and fascinating book." When William Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America in 1910, Seton merged his Woodcraft Indians with the new organization and became the BSA's first Chief Scout (from 1910 to 1916).

James West. West was a Washington, DC, attorney active in juvenile cases. Recruited in 1911 as Executive Secretary, West soon changed his title to Chief Scout Executive. West created a well-organized national structure that was a key to the BSA's growth and reputation. Although he had intended to make Scouting only a temporary diversion from his legal career, West remained our Chief Scout Executive from 1911 until his retirement in 1943.

Power Struggle. Both West and Seton were strong-willed and soon found they had conflicting ideas on how Scouting should develop. Scouting Founder Seton thought of West as a simple administrator, and challenged West's authority to control the young program's development. West had the organization and power base, and forced Seton out in 1916 (also removing all of Seton's writing from the Boy Scout Handbook—though I have not yet discovered whether this was West's choice or if Seton demanded they be removed). But Seton's contribution had been made, and American Scouting today owes much to both men.

Camp Fire Boys & Girls and Girl Scouts of the USA

Girls in the US have had two options similar to Boy Scouting: Camp Fire Boys & Girls (formerly called Camp Fire Girls, founded in 1911), and Girl Scouts of the USA (formerly called the Girl Scouts of America, founded in 1912).

Camp Fire began almost immediately after the Boy Scouts, and its founders included Julia Seton (Ernest Thompson Seton's wife), Lina Beard (Dan Beard's sister), and James E. West, the BSA's new Chief Scout Executive. Originally for girls only, the program is now coed, though its youth membership is still overwhelmingly female.

The Girl Scouts was founded by Juliette "Daisy" Low in 1912, and is the only other US youth organization with a Congressional Charter (granted in 1950). The girls' version of Scouting is called Girl Guiding in most countries, to differentiate it from the boys' program (the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements were both founded by Baden-Powell). The Scout/Guide distinction has been lost in many countries, where boys and girls are members of coed troops. In other countries, the Boy Scout and Girl Guide programs have a common national organization, but with separate troops for Scouts and Guides. In still other countries (such as the US), the boys' and girls' programs are completely separate at all levels. Daisy Low created additional confusion by choosing to call her organization Girl Scouts instead of Girl Guides.

Girl Scouting is divided into five divisions based on grade level:

  • Daisy Scouts (Kindergarten)
  • Brownies (1st through 3rd Grades)
  • Junior Girl Scouts (4th through 6th Grades)
  • Cadettes (7th through 9th Grades)
  • Senior Girl Scouts (10th through 12th Grades)

The Girl Scouts' Senior Division was hit hard by the BSA's decision to make Exploring coed in 1971. The BSA Exploring Division now enrolls more young women than the Girl Scout Senior Division.

BSA Programs

The BSA divides itself into three program divisions:

  • Cub Scouting (for boys in 1st through 5th Grades)
  • Boy Scouting (for boys and young men aged 11 through 17)
  • Venturing (formerly Exploring; for young men and young women aged 14 through 20)

Each division is further divided into two or more program sections. The program sections and the year they began are:

  • Cub Scouting Division
    1930—Cub Scouting (began as Cubbing; includes Webelos)
    1982—Tiger Cubs
  • Boy Scouting Division
    1910—Boy Scouting
    1984—Varsity Scouting
  • Venturing (Exploring) Division
    1912—Sea Exploring (began as Sea Scouting)
    1935—Exploring (began as Senior Scouting)
    1982—Career Awareness Exploring
    1998—Venturing (replaces Exploring)

Boy Scouting Division

Boy Scouts

Boy Scouting was the BSA's original program, begun in 1910.

Age Range. The upper age limit for Boy Scout troops has always been 18. For almost 40 years, the entry age was 12. The BSA lowered the entry age to 11 in 1949. In 1972, the entry age was slightly lowered again, to 10-1/2 if a boy had finished Fifth Grade. In 1988, the age limit was further adjusted to allow a boy to join either at age 11, or upon completion of Fifth Grade regardless of age, or upon earning the Webelos Arrow of Light award (a boy must be either 10-1/2 to earn the Arrow of Light or [since 1998] he can also earn the Arrow of Light if it has been six months since he completed Fourth Grade).

Ranks. The earliest Scouts could earn only three ranks: Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, which covered basic Scouting skills. The BSA soon added three higher ranks to recognize First Class Scouts who earned merit badges: Life (5 merit badges), Star (10 merit badges), and Eagle (21 merit badges). In 1925, Star was placed before Life (because the five points of a star could represent five merit badges). Over the years, the advancement plan has changed little in its overall structure, but specific requirements have been changed many times.

Basic Skills and Skill Awards. The first three ranks have always contained a long list of basic skills to learn. In 1972, this list was reorganized into 12 "skill awards." Each skill award was a metal belt loop that provided "instant recognition" for completing a group of related skills (the 12 awards were: Camping, Citizenship, Communications, Community Living, Conservation, Cooking, Environment, Family Living, First Aid, Hiking, Physical Fitness, Swimming). In 1989, the BSA dropped the skill awards, returning to the system used before 1972.

Merit Badges. Prior to 1972, the BSA felt that working on merit badges might distract Scouts from learning the basic Scout skills taught in the first three ranks. So Scouts had to be First Class before they were allowed to earn merit badges (Second Class Scouts were permitted to work on a limited number of merit badges). In 1972, the merit badge program was opened up to any Scout regardless of rank, and a certain number of merit badges was required for all ranks (including First Aid and Citizenship in the Community for First Class). In 1976, the merit badge for Tenderfoot was dropped and the number required for Second Class and First Class was reduced. In 1979, the remaining merit badge for Second Class was dropped, and the number required for First Class was reduced to one (First Aid). Finally, in 1989, the requirement to earn First Aid for First Class was dropped (First Aid is still on the Eagle list). As a result, the merit badge requirements for the ranks have come almost full circle since 1972.

Eagle Scout. The Eagle rank was established as Scouting's highest award in 1911, and the first Eagle badge was awarded in 1912. Today, well over a million boys and men have earned the Eagle badge (adults could earn Eagle until 1952). At first, Eagle recognized simply earning 21 merit badges. Later, requirements for leadership and service were added.

Board of Review/Court of Honor. Until the early 1950s, troops were generally not allowed the authority to pass off merit badges and ranks. Rather, a Scout was reviewed for his merit badges and ranks at a district or council Court of Honor. The Scout usually received his badge the same evening. Later, as individual troops gradually took over the reviewing and presentation process, the review became separated from the Court of Honor presentation. Since awards could only be presented at Courts of Honor (usually four times a year), Scouts were forced to wait as long as three months to receive the rank or merit badge they had earned. The BSA remedied this problem in 1972 by directing troops to present badges as soon as they were earned. The Court of Honor then became a second, more formal recognition in front of parents.

SPL/PLC. Early Scoutmasters ran their troops much more directly than today's leaders, since they had no Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) and no Patrol Leader Council (PLC). The office of SPL and the PLC were not created until the mid 1920s. The early SPL was usually also a Patrol Leader, who chaired the Patrol Leader Council as a SENIOR Patrol Leader. Gradually, the modern organization developed, with the SPL and Patrol Leaders meeting to plan the troop's activities, and the Scoutmaster acting as an advisor.

Older-boy Options. In an attempt to keep older boys in Scouting, the BSA has often provided a special older-boy program and older-boy patrol within the troop structure. Until the 1950s, this was typically a Sea Scout or Explorer "crew." From 1972 to 1989, it was the Leadership Corps. Since 1990, it has been Venture Scouting (high adventure theme) and Varsity Scouting (sports theme; Varsity has also existed as an optional program totally separate from a Scout troop since 1984). Many troops have additionally grouped older Scouts into some sort of "Senior" Patrol.

Adult Leaders. All troop adult leader positions have always been open to men. For over 50 years, women were excluded from troop operation except for an optional "mothers auxiliary." More recently, women were allowed to hold any troop committee position but not Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster. Finally in 1988, the BSA opened these positions to women also. As a result, all adult positions in the Boy Scouting Division (as well as in the other Divisions) are now open to both men and women.

LDS Scouting. Although many churches endorse the Scouting program, only the LDS ("Mormon") church has officially adopted Scouting as a church youth program. As a result, LDS-sponsored troops follow some requirements for membership, advancement, and activities set by the church (with BSA approval). For example, because of the requirements for a boy's progression within the church, LDS troops do not fully accept the 11-year-old Scout entry age. An LDS Scout must still be 12 before he is allowed to participate in the full troop program; 11-year-olds are placed in a special, limited-camping program (formerly called "Blazer Scouts").

Venture and Varsity Scouts

Venture and Varsity Scouting are the BSA's latest attempts to hold high-school aged young men in Scouting.

Venture Scouting. Venture Scouting is an optional high-adventure program for older Scouts within a troop, begun in 1990. It replaces the Leadership Corps, used from 1972 to 1989, which in turn replaced Senior Scouting, which in turn replaced Explorer Scouting....More recently (1998), the overall Exploring program has been overhauled and renamed Venturing. This is an optional coed program for high school and college ages young men and young women separate from a Scout troop. Older Scouts in a troop can still do "Venture" activities without belonging to a "Venturing" unit (but the terminology is sure confusing).

Varsity Scouting. Varsity Scouting is an optional sports-oriented program for older Scouts. It began in 1984 as a program totally separate from the troop. Primary impetus for the creation of Varsity Scouting came from the LDS church, which was experiencing a high dropout rate in its Explorer posts and was anxious to find a more effective way to keep its high school young men in Scouting. Although the BSA did the official development of the program, and has promoted it as a standard BSA offering, most Varsity teams today are still LDS sponsored. In 1989, the BSA made Varsity Scouting an option for older Scouts within a troop as well as within separate Varsity teams.

Varsity Terminology and Advancement. The Varsity Scout program uses sports terminology as a tool to reach its target population. Boys are members of a squad, which is part of a team led by an adult coach and a boy captain. The advancement plan is identical to the Boy Scout advancement plan, from Tenderfoot through Eagle. Team members also can earn a Varsity Scout "letter" by meeting certain requirements that primarily involve active attendance at team activities.

Cub Scouting Division

Cub Scouts

The "Younger boy Problem." Since the first campout of the first Boy Scout troop, boys too young to join have always desired to camp out like Scouts. The British answer to this desire was Wolf Cubs (now called Cub Scouts), created by Baden-Powell in 1916, and patterned after Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories. The BSA called this desire simply the "younger boy problem." Opposition from Chief Scout Executive James West delayed the start of our younger boy program until 1930. At first called Cubbing, the BSA changed the name to Cub Scouting in 1945. The Cub Scouting Division still calls itself "the Younger Boy Program," for boys in Grades 1 through 5.

Differences. The BSA's Cub Scout program has always been quite different from the younger boy programs of most other countries, which are often a modified version of the Boy Scout program. As the BSA's Cub Scout Leader Book says, "Our Cub Scouting is different from the younger boy programs of any other country because it is home- and neighborhood-centered...." The BSA has always strongly insisted that our younger boy program be significantly different from Boy Scouting, out of fear that too early an introduction to camping and other Boy Scout skills would spoil Boy Scouting for the younger boys.

Age Range. Cub Scouting's age range during its first 19 years was 9-11. In 1949, this was lowered to 8-10 as all BSA programs lowered their entry age by one year (Explorers from 15 to 14, Boy Scouts from 12 to 11, and Cub Scouts from 9 to 8). From 1986 to 1989, the Cub Scouting Division further lowered the age for each Cub Scout level and changed the primary entry requirement to school grade instead of age. As a result, the Cub Scouting Division uses the following school-grade scheme:

  • 1st Grade-Tiger Cubs
  • 2nd Grade-Wolf Cub Scouts
  • 3rd Grade-Bear Cub Scouts
  • 4th & 5th Grade-Webelos Scouts
  • (Cub Scout packs sponsored by the LDS church continue to use the previous age requirements.)

Ranks. Unlike Boy Scout ranks, which a boy may earn as soon as he has passed the previous rank, Cub Scout ranks have always been restricted to a specific age group. The original three Cub ranks were Wolf (age 9, later age 8, now 2nd Grade), Bear (age 10, later age 9, now 3rd Grade), and Lion (age 11, later age 10, dropped in 1967). At first, a boy who joined the pack at an older age had to earn ALL previous ranks before he could work on the rank for his age. Soon, this requirement was dropped and new Cub Scouts were allowed to begin work immediately on the rank for their age group (after completing the Bobcat joining requirements). Cub Scouts now can earn five ranks: Bobcat (the joining requirements, not considered a rank until 1974), Wolf, Bear, Webelos (created in 1977), Arrow of Light (originally called the Webelos rank, created in 1941).

Den Leadership. At first, each Cub den was led by a Boy Scout Den Chief with no direct adult involvement in the den (that, by the way, is why he is called the Den CHIEF instead of Den Assistant or some such)! In 1936, the BSA added the optional office of Den Mother (Den Mothers were not required to register until 1948). The handbooks of the late 1930s state that the Den Mother was ready to help when needed "but she leaves the actual running of the Den to the Den Chief." Even after almost 20 years of Cub Scouting, the 1949 handbook still stated that the Den Mother "helps the Den Chief plan Den fun." Not until the mid 1950s did the Den Mother assume full control of the den, with the Den Chief becoming the helper. In 1967, Den Mothers became Den Leaders as men were also allowed to lead dens. And since 1967, a Den Leader Coach has provided guidance and assistance to the Den Leaders.

Adult Leaders. Until 1967, men could hold any Cub Scout leader position except Den Mother; now men can hold any position. Until the late 1960s, women were generally excluded from registered Cub Scout leader positions except Den Mother. Women have been permitted to be Cubmaster only since 1976, and Webelos Den Leader only since 1988. Today, men and women can hold any Cub Scout leadership position. (It is interesting that the BSA did not allow women on the national Cub Scout Committee until 1969!)


Transition to Boy Scouting. The need for a transition program from Cub Scouting to Boy Scouting became apparent early because too many Cub Scouts were failing to make the transition to Boy Scouting, and because Cub Scout graduates were generally unprepared for the Boy Scout program. The Webelos program offered Cub Scouts the opportunity to learn about Boy Scouting.

History of Webelos. Created in 1941, the original Webelos program consisted simply of a new Webelos rank which boys could earn during their last few months in Cub Scouting. To earn the new rank, Cub Scouts first had to earn Lion, and they had to learn the skills required for the Boy Scout Tenderfoot badge. The Cub Scouts who worked on the Webelos rank were not yet called Webelos, and they remained in a regular Cub Scout den. In 1954, 10-1/2 year olds were organized into special Webelos dens, although they still had to earn Lion to qualify for the Webelos rank. In 1967, Cub Scouting dropped the Lion rank, extended the Webelos program from six months to the last year of Cub Scouting, and created the first 15 Webelos activity badges. In 1977, they added a new Webelos rank (the old Webelos rank was now called the Arrow of Light rank). In 1987, the Webelos program added five more activity badges (for a total of 20), and realigned the requirements of several activity badges to more closely match the requirements for the Boy Scout Tenderfoot rank. In 1988-89, the Webelos program was expanded to cover the last two years of Cub Scouting, though the BSA soon after began encouraging packs to graduate Webelos in February instead of May or June (so they could get started with a Scout troop before summer, and thus be less likely to drop out over the summer).

Younger Version of Boy Scouting. Interestingly enough, in spite of the BSA insistence that our Cub Scout program NOT be a younger version of the Boy Scout program, this has actually been the trend for almost 50 years! Since its creation, the Webelos program has become progressively more independent of the Cub Scout pack and progressively more a younger version of the Boy Scout program in its insignia, terminology, and advancement. Today's Webelos are properly called Webelos Scouts (not Webelos Cub Scouts), and they can even wear the Boy Scout uniform (with appropriate Webelos insignia) instead of the Cub Scout uniform. Although Webelos Scouts no longer use the Boy Scout Handbook to work on Tenderfoot, today's Webelos Scout Handbook covers the Boy Scout joining requirements and the Tenderfoot requirements, as well as the Webelos activity badges. In addition, the requirements for some of the Webelos activity badges have been changed so that a Webelos graduate now enters a Scout troop essentially finished with Tenderfoot. A second-year Webelos den can also be organized as a patrol (for example, calling itself the Panther patrol instead of Den 6), and hopefully enters a troop as a viable Scout patrol. Similar to Boy Scouts, Webelos advancement is handled by the Webelos Den Leader rather than the parents, and Webelos activities are more parent-son than family-centered.

Duration of the Webelos Program. The Webelos program has also been taking over more and more of the time a boy spends in a Cub Scout pack. In the 1940s, the Webelos portion of Cub Scouting had no set time period; a Cub Scout worked on the Webelos rank after earning Lion during the last few months of Cub Scouting. In 1954, the half-year Webelos program represented 17% of the three-year Cub Scout program. In 1967, the one-year Webelos program represented 33%; and since 1989, the two-year Webelos program has represented 50% of the expanded four-year Cub Scout program (today's roughly 21-month Webelos program represents 47% of the 3-year-9-month Cub Scout program, a slight loss, but compensated by the fact that the graduating Webelos Scout now joins a troop three to six months sooner than before).

Meaning of "Webelos." The name Webelos (which is always spelled with the 's') and the Arrow of Light symbol actually date from Cub Scouting's founding in 1930. Webelos was the name of the made-up "tribe" to which all Cubs belonged, symbolized by the Arrow of Light (which was not yet a badge to be earned). When the BSA created a new rank above Lion in 1941, they used the Cub Scout tribe name and symbol (the new rank was called the Webelos award until 1977, when it was renamed the Arrow of Light award and yet another new rank created bearing the name Webelos). From 1930 to 1967, the Webelos name had a double meaning. The consonants in WeBeLoS stood for the Cub Scout rank progression culminating with graduation into a Boy Scout troop (Wolf, Bear, Lion, Scout), a meaning lost when the Lion rank was discontinued. The full name stood for "We'll Be Loyal" (later, apparently because someone felt the final 's'; should stand for something, this became "We'll Be Loyal Scouts"). For about a decade after the creation of the Webelos rank, the Webelos tribal name was still applied to all Cub Scouts. During the 1950s, the name gradually became the sole property of the senior Cub Scouts working on the Webelos badge (although all new Cub Scouts must still learn the secret meaning of the Webelos name as a requirement for the Bobcat rank).

Tiger Cubs

Tiger Cubs began in 1982 as a means of starting boys and their parents in Scouting one year sooner. It is very informal, encouraging activities between a boy and a parent. At first open to 7 year olds, Tiger Cubs now is open to all boys in First Grade. Tiger Cubs is partly based on Canada's Beaver Scout program, which is their program for pre-Cub Scouts.

In 1996, the BSA updated the Tiger Cub program, primarily incorporating them more closely with the pack, a change most packs had already made. Before, Tiger Cubs were supposed to attend only a couple of pack meetings a year, and were not supposed to make Pinewood Derby cars. Now, they are encouraged to attend all pack meetings, including Pinewood Derbies.

Venturing (Exploring) Division

Explorers & Sea Explorers

The "Older Boy Problem." Along with the "younger boy problem," the BSA experienced what they called the "older boy problem" from Scouting's earliest days. Scouting has always had difficulty keeping boys in a troop beyond age 13 or 14. Sea Scouting (the forerunner of Sea Exploring) began in 1912. Other older-boy programs came along in the mid 1930s. Since then, older boy (and older-girl) programs have been added, dropped, updated, and changed continually right up to the present, and the BSA continues to search for solutions to the "older boy problem." Today, the Venturing (Exploring) Division serves young men and young women from ages 14 through 20. In addition, the Boy Scouting Division serves young men aged 14 through 17 with its Varsity Scout program and with its Boy Scouting program (which also includes ages 11-13).

Venturer/Explorer Programs. The first specific older boy program was Sea Scouting, started in 1912. In 1935, the BSA established its Senior Scouting section, for young men 15 and up. Senior Scouting included not only Senior Scouts (who were members of a regular Boy Scout troop), but also Sea Scouts (members of a regular troop or of a separate Sea Scout ship), and Explorer Scouts (members of a regular troop or of a separate Explorer troop). Air Scouting started in 1941 and ended as a separate program in 1965. For a brief time, there were also Rover Scout crews for young men 17 and up. In 1949, the BSA decided to call all Senior Scouts (14 and over) Explorers, whether they remained as part of a troop's Explorer crew or joined a separate Explorer post. In 1959, Boy Scouts 14 and over were again called Senior Scouts (a term dropped in 1972 when the optional Leadership Corps was created for 14 and 15 year olds), and the term Explorer was applied only to members of Explorer posts, Sea Explorer ships, and Air Explorer squadrons. That year (1959) saw other sweeping changes as Exploring began permitting posts to become special-interest posts with a career specialty. [With the end of the Leadership Corps option in 1989, senior Scouts are now called loosely called Venture or Varsity Scouts.] In 1998, the Explorer program was overhauled and renamed the Venturing program, including a new rank advancement program.

Coed Membership. Venturing/Exploring is Scouting's only fully-coed division. Men and women can hold any adult Venturing office. In 1969, young women were permitted to become non-registered "associate" post members, and, in 1971, Exploring became fully coed, although female Venturers still do not quite enjoy full equality with male Venturers. The Eagle Scout badge is still an option open only to male Venturers (who must earn the ranks through First Class as a member of a Boy Scout troop). Youth membership in the Order of the Arrow honor camping brotherhood, formerly open to male Explorers, is now restricted to Scouts in troops; the OA is coed only at the adult level.

Age Overlap. Internationally, the age overlap of Boy Scouting (11-17), Varsity Scouting (14-17), and Venturing (14-20) in American Scouting is unusual. Most countries require boys at about age 14 to leave the Scout troop and enter their country's version of Venturing (just as we require 11 year olds to leave the Cub Scout pack and enter a Scout troop).

Advancement. Venturer/Explorer advancement has never settled into a pattern of its own. Explorers have usually had the option of earning the higher Boy Scout ranks (Star, Life, Eagle). In addition, Explorers have often had a separate advancement track of their own, patterned after Boy Scout advancement, and culminating with an Explorer rank comparable to Eagle Scout (such as the old Explorer Scouting program's Ranger Award or Sea Exploring's Quartermaster Award). Today, male Venturers can earn the higher Boy Scout ranks (they must earn First Class in a Boy Scout troop), Sea Explorers (male and female) can earn the Quartermaster award, and Venturers (male and female) can earn a newly revamped Venturing Ranger Award.

Career Awareness Explorers

Started in 1982, Career Awareness Exploring is a non-traditional, in-school program designed to provide career orientation and training to high-school-aged young men and women. The program is non-traditional because it does not function outside of the school, it does not do any traditional Exploring or Scouting activities, it has no uniform or advancement plan, and it provides only limited leadership opportunities. Career Awareness Exploring has grown rapidly and has already surpassed traditional Exploring in registration. Career Awareness Exploring gave the Exploring Division its first membership gains in over 20 years, but traditional Exploring has not been gaining, having fewer members now than before it went coed.

Scout Uniforms

Boy Scout and Varsity/Venture Scout Uniforms

Early Uniform. The first Scout uniform was an impractical copy of the US Army uniform of 1910, which disregarded the far more practical English uniform designed by Baden-Powell. The early BSA uniform had no neckerchief, and Scouts generally wore knickers with leggings and a button-down coat with metal insignia. Scouts and adults both wore their rank insignia on their hats (adults were allowed to earn merit badges and ranks right along with the Scouts).

1922-1981 Uniforms. In 1922, the BSA modernized its uniforms to the style we would recognize today. Coats and leggings were dropped, and neckerchiefs were added. Scouts could wear shorts and knee socks in the summer, knickers and knee socks in the winter (trousers replaced knickers in 1944).

Until 1948, all Scouts wore campaign ("Smokey the Bear") hats. At that time, the field (overseas) cap (popularized by World War II soldiers) was added. Red berets and baseball-style caps joined the options in 1972. Also in 1972, the BSA changed almost every uniform insignia, making them multi-color, standardizing the shapes, and adding wording to explain what they signify. Brightly colored patches replaced the old black-on-red patrol medallions and the black-on-khaki merit badges.

Current Uniform. In 1981, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta designed a more attractive Scout uniform (at no charge). The more stylish new uniform maintained a clear Scout identity in its appearance, but used more rugged material and added colored shoulder loops. The most striking change was the switch to a two-color uniform (something many other countries have long had). A tan shirt and dark khaki-green trousers replaced the old medium khaki-green shirt and trousers (which in turn had replaced a medium khaki-brown). In 1989, along with the other changes largely restoring the pre-1972 program, the BSA changed its rank and office insignia so that they more nearly matched the pre-1972 insignia, keeping the wording but replacing the multi-colored backgrounds with backgrounds matching the tan shirt color. In 1990, the BSA added an optional "activity" uniform in addition to the standard field uniform (like the leggings of the 1950s, the expensive activity uniform has not caught on, mainly because Scouts must still own a field uniform for more formal occasions).

In the early 1990s, the BSA discontinued its unpopular knee socks, replacing them with shorter khaki socks with a red band at the top. In 1995, responding to complaints (mostly from adults embarrassed about their ugly legs, I suspect), the BSA brought back the knee socks as an option.

Shoulder Loops. Today's Scouts and Scouters wear colored shoulder loops to indicate the branch of the Scouting family to which they belong. Cub Scout leaders (and Webelos Scouts who choose to wear the Boy Scout uniform) wear blue loops (other Cub Scouts and Tiger Cubs do not wear loops), Boy Scouts and their leaders wear red, Varsity Scouts and their leaders wear orange, Venturers and their leaders wear green, District and Council Scouters wear silver, and Regional and National Scouters wear gold.

The Most Important Change. With all these many changes, you know what is easily the most important one in the uniform's nine-decade history? It's permanent press! Until the mid 1960s, uniforms were wrinkle-prone cotton or itchy wool. Ironing might last an hour or so (sometimes minutes). Modern, cotton/polyester permanent-press materials are a big improvement.

Varsity/Venture Scout Uniforms. Varsity Scouts who belong to a Varsity team have the option of wearing the standard Boy Scout uniform with orange shoulder loops and Varsity Scout insignia, or they can wear a Varsity Scout T-shirt with non-uniform brown trousers. Venture Scouts, and Varsity Scouts in a troop, wear the standard Scout uniform with a "Venture" or "Varsity" strip above the "Boy Scouts of America" strip.

Cub Scout, Webelos, and Tiger Cubs Uniforms

Cub Scout Uniform. The blue Cub Scout uniform has changed little since 1930, except for Webelos Scouts. Many minor changes have occurred at about the same time as similar changes in the Boy Scout uniform, including the switch from knickers to trousers (in 1947, three years after the Boy Scouts) and the switch to permanent press. Oscar de la Renta redesigned the Cub Scout uniform at the same time he redesigned the Boy Scout uniform, but the changes were minor, the most significant being the change from "beanies" to baseball-style caps.

Webelos Uniform. The Webelos Cub Scouts of the 1950s and 1960s wore only the Webelos den badge on the standard Cub Scout uniform. In 1967, they were given special Webelos insignia, neckerchief, and hat. Beginning in 1984, Webelos Scouts got the additional option of wearing the standard Boy Scout uniform with Webelos hat, neckerchief, insignia, and blue shoulder loops.

Neckerchiefs. The yellow Cub Scout neckerchief was originally worn by all Cub Scouts. In 1967, Webelos Scouts got a special plaid neckerchief. In 1984, the yellow Cub Scout neckerchief became the Wolf Cub Scout neckerchief, and Bear Cub Scouts got their own light blue neckerchief.

Tiger Cubs Uniforms. Tiger Cubs have no official uniform, but members can purchase an iron-on Tiger Cubs logo for parent and boy to put on an orange T-shirt.

Venturer/Explorer Uniforms

The early Senior Scouts and Explorer Scouts wore the same uniform as other Scouts. Sea Scouts and Air Scouts had uniforms appropriate to their programs. Explorers of the 1950s had a forest green uniform. Later, a blue blazer "uniform" was allowed, and the forest green uniform was dropped. Today, most posts wear no uniform beyond jeans and a printed T-shirt. Even Sea Explorer ships have total freedom to design their own uniform. Career Awareness Explorers have never had a uniform. The new Venturing program has restored the forest green shirt (now called spruce green) with green shoulder loops and gray shorts or trousers as an optional uniform.

Looking in the Crystal Ball

General Changes

Transition. The Scouting program has been in transition since the abandonment of the disastrous 1972-78 "Improved Scouting Program." This period of transition and adjustment is likely to continue past the year 2000, as the Boy Scouts of America tries to put the losses of the 1970s behind, and begins to plan for a new century. The first decade of the new century should be an exciting time as Scouting re-examines its foundations and begins lining up its programs for a huge celebration of its 100th Anniversary in 2010.

Conservation. From 1910 until 1972, Scouting's outdoor program officially used a traditional "Daniel Boone" approach, with strong emphasis on heavy-impact pioneering and camping skills. With shrinking wild areas and increasingly heavy use of what wilderness is left, all organizations that promote the outdoors have been changing their approach. Starting in 1972, Scouting began a major transition toward a new (low-impact) outdoor ethic, culminating with the issue of the 10th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook in 1990. As a result, modern Scouts use the outdoors very differently than Scouts did during Scouting's first 62+ years. Today, more Scout meals are cooked over camping stoves than on wood fires, tents have floors and mosquito netting (and are never "ditched"), packs (with frames) are lighter and much more comfortable.

Other Adjustments. There will be other adjustments as well: as Scouting adjusts to changing social standards on the roles of men and women; as Scouting adjusts to increased competition for a boy's time; and as Scouting seeks to enroll more minority members in its programs.

Measuring Success. From 1910 until 1972, the BSA measured much of its success by its ever-increasing membership statistics. Although the massive losses of the 1970s are behind us, Scouting membership is currently at the same level as the mid 1950s, nowhere near its 1972 maximum level. For the next 20 years or more, the Scout-age population is expected to remain fairly stable, and there will be increasing competition for boys' time. This adds up to a long period of stable (limited growth) membership levels. Adjusting to limited growth will be extremely difficult for the BSA, which is psychologically as well as structurally designed to equate success with growth. The minimal growth in traditional BSA programs will cause the national office to begin making changes to the traditional programs more often, and to add more non-traditional programs in an attempt to increase membership in areas not reached by traditional programs. We have already seen more program changes, more new programs, and shorter development periods in the past two decades than in all of Scouting's first seven decades.

Minorities. Scouting has always effectively reached the white middle class, but it has never been as successful with those outside the middle class or with non-whites. From its earliest days, the BSA has made many different efforts to expand its outreach, and it is likely to increase these efforts for the foreseeable future. In particular, look for a number of new, non-traditional programs designed to increase membership among minorities, especially among the rapidly expanding black and hispanic populations.

Scouting in the Future

Boy Scouting and Varsity/Venture Scouting. Boy Scouting has changed less than either Cub Scouting or Exploring throughout its history, and this is likely to continue. Advancement requirements will be updated and uniforms will be adjusted, but the troop of 2010 will probably not be very different from the troop of today. Varsity Scouting has not been very successful, not surprising since sports-oriented boys can get "real" sports through school and recreational programs. The programs for high school aged young men, both within the Boy Scout troop and within the Venturing/Exploring Division, will continue to struggle to find the key(s) to reaching young adults of this age.

Cub Scouting. Cub Scouting was a three-year program for 52 years. But in only five years, it expanded first to a four-year program, and then to a five-year program. The BSA added the first totally new Cub Scout program (Tiger Cubs) since the gradual introduction of the Webelos program began in 1941. In the 1980s, they made significant changes to the Wolf and Bear ranks, and made the most significant changes to the Webelos program in 20 years. You won't have to wait another 20 years to see more changes. Look for more changes in Tiger Cubs, as BSA finally integrates it into the Cub Scout pack (the recent changes in Tiger Cubs were predicted more than five years ago in an earlier version of this study).

Expect further overhauling of Wolf and Bear, and more formalizing of the Tiger Cubs program. Also expect further overhauling of the two-year Webelos program (already reduced from 24 months to about 21 months). I believe that Cub Scouting is facing significant increases in its already-high dropout rate because younger boys will now have almost five years instead of three to become bored with a program that provides minimal camping and outdoor experiences. The Webelos program still offers extremely limited emphasis on camping and the outdoors. I believe the 21-month Webelos program will soon experience an even higher dropout rate than the old one-year program (which was about 50%). From my bias as a Scoutmaster, I believe Cub Scouting would be more effective if it provided significantly more emphasis on camping and the outdoors than it does now. I find it instructive that Girl Scouts, Campfire, and YMCA Indian Guides all do more camping and outdoor activities at this age than either Cub Scouts or Webelos Scouts are allowed to do.

Cub Scouting in 2010. Some out-on-a-limb predictions by the year 2010:

  • the Tiger Cubs age will be lowered to Kindergarten, and Tiger Cubs will be more formally combined with the Cub Scout pack program
  • Wolf and Bear will be extensively modified, and the age lowered to 1st and 2nd Graders
  • Webelos Scouting will become a separate three-year program within the Cub Scouting Division with its own Webelos Scout pack for 3rd, 4th, and 5th Graders; they will have a much more camping-oriented outdoor program; and they will be more closely associated with a Boy Scout troop
  • the entry age for Boy Scouting will eventually be lowered to age 10, at least for boys who have earned the Arrow of Light; perhaps the 10-year olds will be organized into a Webelos Patrol within the troop, somewhat similar to the 11-year-old patrol in LDS troops (formerly called the Blazer patrol). Indeed, this has already happened in part, as many Webelos are earning the Arrow of Light in their first year, then joining a Scout troop at age 10-1/2 while still in 4th grade].