Baden-Powell Establishes the Boy Scouts Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Following the success of his manual on scouting, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell decided to rewrite the book for the members of England’s youth organizations. He held a camp to test his ideas in 1907 and published Scouting for Boys in 1908. Scout troops were soon formed by independent boys around the world, and Scouting was organized in England in 1909.

Summary of Event

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was born in Paddington, London, on February 22, 1857, the son of a professor of geometry at Oxford University. After completing his education, he joined the Thirteenth Hussars in India before serving in Africa in 1895 and again in India in 1897, where he commanded the Fifth Dragoon Guards. Baden-Powell became a seasoned scout while working among Zulu tribesmen in the 1880’s in Natal, South Africa. Some years later, he wrote the popular manual called Aids to Scouting (1899). Aids to Scouting (Baden-Powell) The book was partly a training manual for newly recruited scouts and partly a summary of everything Baden-Powell had learned about military scouting through experience and training. Boy Scouts Youth organizations [kw]Baden-Powell Establishes the Boy Scouts (Aug., 1907)[Baden Powell Establishes the Boy Scouts (Aug., 1907)] [kw]Boy Scouts, Baden-Powell Establishes the (Aug., 1907) [kw]Scouts, Baden-Powell Establishes the Boy (Aug., 1907) Boy Scouts Youth organizations [g]England;Aug., 1907: Baden-Powell Establishes the Boy Scouts[01930] [c]Education;Aug., 1907: Baden-Powell Establishes the Boy Scouts[01930] [c]Organizations and institutions;Aug., 1907: Baden-Powell Establishes the Boy Scouts[01930] Baden-Powell, Sir Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, Agnes Boyce, William Dickson

Baden-Powell witnessed the famous siege of Mafeking in South Africa, during the Boer War, and it was there that he saw a cadet corps for young men below fighting age. The corps carried messages, aided in hospitals, and performed other tasks in order to free the infantry to perform more soldierly tasks. Impressed, Baden-Powell used these boys as an example in the beginning of his Scouting for Boys (1908). Scouting for Boys (Baden-Powell)

Upon his return to England from Africa, Baden-Powell visited William Alexander Smith Smith, William Alexander (who was later knighted) and his Boys’ Brigade Boys’ Brigade[Boys Brigade] in Glasgow, Scotland. Baden-Powell, a general in the army, was there to inspect seven thousand boys on the occasion of the brigade’s twentieth anniversary. Smith proudly declared that his movement’s total membership was fifty-four thousand strong, and Baden-Powell remarked that it could be ten times that if the training were more appealing to the interests of young boys. Smith asked Baden-Powell to rewrite his Aids to Scouting for a youth readership, and Baden-Powell agreed.

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell.

(Library of Congress)

In order to rework Aids to Scouting to suit young men’s and boys’ abilities and potential, Baden-Powell decided to hold an experimental camp for twenty-two boys from assorted social backgrounds. His chief aim in assembling this group was to test the viability of some of his ideas. The group of boys were from Eton, Harrow, and London’s East End, although there were also some boys from shops and the country; Baden-Powell wanted to see how his ideas on scouting would interest young men from different backgrounds and areas. A friend allowed Baden-Powell to use a piece of her property in Dorsetshire, on Brownsea Island, since Baden-Powell wanted a place away from the British press and other nosy people. Here Baden-Powell and the boys camped for a fortnight, together with Major Clan MacLaren and Percy Everett. Together, the three men taught the boys camping, hiking, boating, cooking, patriotism, and all manner of scouting skills.

This experience taught Baden-Powell about the possibilities for training in scouting, and he incorporated what he learned in his Scouting for Boys, which was first published in installments in early 1908. Baden-Powell hoped his book would be a useful aid in training boys’ groups such as the Boys’ Brigade, the Church Lads’ Brigade, and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He did not intend the book to be the first step in the creation of a Scouting movement, but that is exactly what happened. Baden-Powell began receiving letters from boys who had read his book and found it not only useful but also inspiring. Young men all over England, most of whom did not have any connection with existing organizations for young people, started their own Scout patrols and troops and convinced grown men to act as their Scoutmasters, and the Scouting movement was born.

Baden-Powell called a meeting for all Scouts at the Crystal Palace in London in 1909. When he arrived, he was astonished to find that eleven thousand youths were in attendance. Later, he was careful to mention that the boys who made up this tremendous group had become Scouts of their own accord. Truly, Scouting essentially started itself out of the initiative and spirit of the young people who began their own troops and patrols without any direct adult involvement.

At the Crystal Palace rally, Baden-Powell first encountered Girl Scouts. The creation of the Girl Scouts was an unexpected consequence of the publication of Scouting for Boys. He later wrote a book for girls, calling them the Girl Guides Girl Guides to distinguish them from the guides for his male Scouts. Baden-Powell was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of female Scouts, so he and his sister Agnes founded the Girl Guides in 1910. Instead of promoting the type of manly character the Scouts sought to instill in boys, the Girl Guides aimed to train girls to be good mothers and wives. During its beginning stages, the Girl Guides did not share the rapid growth enjoyed by the Scouts. However, membership numbers boomed during World War I, when the girls’ training began to resemble more closely that of their male counterparts.

In 1912, Robert Baden-Powell toured the United States (where he visited twenty-four states), Canada, Australia, and South Africa. During his travels, he talked about Scouting, and in his wake troops and similar movements sprouted up all over the world. There was some disagreement, however, about Scouting’s origins in the United States. According to one famous story, the wealthy Chicago publisher William Dickson Boyce was visiting England in August, 1909, when he lost his way in London’s fog. Just as he was losing hope, Boyce was approached by an adolescent boy carrying a lantern; the boy offered his assistance and helped Boyce reach his destination. Boyce offered the boy a shilling, but the boy refused, saying that he was a Scout and that Scouts did not accept rewards for their good turns. Boyce became henceforth fiercely interested in the Scouting movement. The Scout took Boyce to the headquarters of the British Scouts, where he learned much about this infant movement.

Although Scout troops in the United States had already sprung up spontaneously, William Dickson Boyce filed incorporation papers in Washington, D.C., on February 8, 1910, and this date is celebrated as the date of the Boy Scouts of America’s official founding. No one ever knew the name or whereabouts of the boy in the story, but the American Scouts erected a statue of a buffalo at the British Scout Training Center at Gilwell Park, England, to honor the unknown Scout who inspired the official movement in the United States.


From its beginnings at a small camp in England in 1907, the Boy Scouts grew into one of the world’s largest international youth groups. Many distinguished leaders have passed through Scouting’s ranks, including several members of the U.S. Congress and at least one president, Gerald R. Ford. In wartime, Great Britain’s Boy Scouts were known for performing a number of services in support of war efforts, such as mounting metal drives and running errands. Although historians continue to debate whether Baden-Powell intended to form a paramilitary organization—and whether those intentions changed over time—the Boy Scouts and its sibling organization the Girl Scouts have been an important character-building influence on millions of young people. Boy Scouts Youth organizations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baden-Powell, Robert. Scouting for Boys: The Original 1908 Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. A reprint of the famous book that started it all.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scout Handbook. 11th ed. Irving, Tex.: Author, 1998. Modern-day handbook for members of the Boy Scouts of America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jeal, Tim. Baden-Powell: Founder of the Boy Scouts. 1989. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Biography describes Baden-Powell’s founding of the Scouting movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rosenthal, Michael. “Knights and Retainers: The Earliest Version of Baden-Powell’s Boy Scout Scheme.” Journal of Contemporary History 15, no. 4 (October, 1980): 603-617. Claims that Baden-Powell’s original ideas for the Scouting movement were published in 1904 and that his intentions at that time were for an overtly militaristic organization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Springhall, John. “Baden-Powell and the Scout Movement Before 1920: Citizen Training or Soldiers of the Future?” English Historical Review 102, no. 405 (1987): 934-942. Account of the debate over whether Scouting is a paramilitary organization aimed at producing soldiers or a group devoted to producing good citizens.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Voeltz, Richard. “The Antidote to ’Khaki Fever’? The Expansion of the British Girl Guides During World War I.” Journal of Contemporary History 27, no. 4 (October, 1992): 627-638. Article on the explosion of the Girl Guides in Britain in World War I.

National Audubon Society Is Established

First American Service Organization Is Founded

Formation of the American Friends Service Committee

Formation of the American Legion

Izaak Walton League Is Formed

U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Is Established

Categories: History