The Boy Scouts of America: Then and Now — A Comparison of the 1911 and Modern Handbooks and Merit Badges

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 15, 2013 · 159 comments

in A Man's Life


“‘Scout’ used to mean the one on watch for the rest. We have widened the word a little. We have made it fit the town as well as the wilderness and suited it to peace time instead of war. We have made the scout an expert in Life-craft as well as Wood-craft, for he is trained in the things of the heart as well as head and hand. Scouting we have made to cover riding, swimming, tramping, trailing, photography, first aid, camping, handicraft, loyalty, obedience, courtesy, thrift, courage, and kindness.

Do these things appeal to you? Do you love the woods?

Do you wish to learn the trees as the forester knows them? And the stars not as an astronomer, but as a traveler?

Do you wish to have all-round, well-developed muscles, not those of a great athlete, but those of a sound body that will not fail you? Would you like to be an expert camper who can always make himself comfortable out of doors, and a swimmer that fears no waters? Do you desire the knowledge to help the wounded quickly, and to make yourself cool and self-reliant in an emergency?

Do you believe in loyalty, courage, and kindness? Would you like to form habits that will surely make your success in life?

Then, whether you be farm boy or shoe clerk, newsboy or millionaire’s son, your place is in our ranks, for these are the thoughts in scouting; it will help you to do better work with your pigs, your shoes, your papers, or your dollars; it will give you new pleasures in life; it will teach you so much of the outdoor world that you wish to know; and this Handbook, the work of many men, each a leader in his field, is their best effort to show you the way.” — Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys, 1911


Just a few years ago, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their centennial anniversary. The BSA was founded in 1910 as a military-inspired organization designed to shore up the values of self-reliance, patriotism, courage, morality, outdoor ruggedness, and all-around manliness the country feared was being lost as it became increasingly urbanized. In its century-long history, the Scouts have remained true to many of their founding principles, while also changing along with American culture. Because the Scouts were designed to be a repository of traditionally manly values, tracing those changes offers an interesting prism through which to see how our views on manliness have shifted as well.

One way to illuminate these changes is by comparing the original BSA handbook, published in 1911, with the modern version – the 12th edition was introduced in 2009. In an incisive book review for the Claremont Institute, Kathleen Arnn conducts this type of side-by-side analysis. She points out that while the modern version contains many of the same skills as the original, “its discussions of these things have been pared down and lack the verve, punch, and adventurous spirit—the manliness—of the original handbook.”


What has been dropped or reduced in the modern handbook is telling. Gone is the section on chivalry, which traced the Boy Scouts’ heritage back through the pioneers and Pilgrims, and to the knights of the Middle Ages. While the 1911 handbook has a lengthy chapter on Patriotism and Citizenship (including a letter from Theodore Roosevelt on “Practical Citizenship”), which outlines the history of the United States, the meaning of the flag, and the purpose of various governmental bodies, the modern handbook has greatly shrunk the discussion of such things in both length and detail. The original is also generously peppered with references to great men in history for young boys to emulate, while the mention of such “heroes” is almost entirely absent from the one published in 2009 (being inspired by history isn’t much in fashion these days).

Perhaps most striking is the different way in which the two guides address the idea of good character. The original didn’t shy away from strong admonitions like, “It is horrible to be a coward. It is weak to yield to fear and heroic to face danger without flinching,” and “The honor of a scout will not permit of anything but the highest and the best and the manliest. The honor of a scout is a sacred thing, and cannot be lightly set aside or trampled on.”


In contrast, the modern version frames its discussion of character in terms of its inoffensive modern equivalent: leadership and personal development. Instead of being couched in the absolute language of moral virtue, doing the right thing becomes a matter or “making the most of yourself” and “getting along with others.” Arnn further articulates the shift:

“Character formation is still a top priority for the BSA, but the latest handbook has largely replaced the traditional language of virtue with the progressive language of leadership, and this is not an improvement. The chapter on Chivalry has been completely removed, and the chapter on Leadership, which is presumably meant to replace it, has little to say about moral virtue beyond the Scout Oath and Law. Instead, it presents the EDGE method of teaching (explain, demonstrate, guide, and enable), describes the difference between short term and long term goals, and lists tips for using the internet to become a leader in your community…

Boy Scouts are still taught to follow their consciences: do the right thing, even though it may be difficult, which is sensible advice as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. The old handbook treated the subject as if the conscience needed to be formed before it could be followed. Scouts needed to be habituated to the virtues through study and practice, dutifully doing the right thing until it became second nature. This was a stern discipline. Many would not succeed at it; those who did could be proud.”

It’s notable to see what has been added to the modern handbook as well. For example, while the subject of abstaining from alcohol and tobacco is covered in just five sentences in the original, it comes in for a much fuller discussion in the modern version, with details on how to resist peer pressure. And while the 1911 handbook begins with that arresting introduction we put at the start of this piece, the new one opens to a tear-out pamphlet titled: “How to Protect Your Children from Child Abuse.” “It’s as if,” Arnn writes, “the first thought our boys should have is that they are potential victims.”

BSA Merit Badges: Now and Then


These observations are interesting food for thought, and I’m sure debate as well. But the other day, I decided to look at the evolution of the BSA from a different angle: comparing the requirements for merit badges now and then. Such a comparison is a little more fun, and a little less serious than contrasting the differences between the handbooks’ respective philosophical bents. And yet it still reveals a lot in how we’ve changed as a culture and what we expect of young men.

The most obvious change is that there are many more merit badges available to earn today than there were back in 1911: 131 versus 57. The expansion in badges to such things as Robotics, Game Design (which involves playing and describing what you like about your favorite video games), Skating, Traffic Safety, Citizenship in the World (as opposed to just the nation), and Disability Awareness reflect the changing interests of boys and sensibilities of modern society. At the same time, some of the original badges have disappeared or been incorporated into broader badges as their requisite skill set became more outdated; not too many modern boys need to know how to shoe a horse (Blacksmithing badge) or send a Semaphore code (Signaler badge).


What is most interesting to take stock of are the changes in requirements among the badge themes that have largely remained the same over a century’s time. As one might already suspect, in many cases the requirements for the original badges were more demanding than those of their modern counterparts. But even in the few cases where the present-day badges involve a more difficult requirement (for example, in 1911 Scouts had to swim 100 yards; now they must swim 150), what stands out for all the modern badges is how much longer and more involved the guidelines are today than they used to be. In the 1911 handbook, earning each badge involved the completion of a short list of one-sentence requirements. Modern badge requirements, on the other hand, run to as many as ten paragraph-long sections, the first of which is always a discussion of the need to discuss safety considerations with one’s leader. The gardening badge for example, requires the Scout to discuss with his counselor what hazards he might encounter if he happened to unfortunately plant his tomatoes near a beehive.

Modern badge requirements also diverge from the old in their more abstract, mental nature. While the 1911 badge requirements are all direct actions, often of the physical, hands-on variety, the modern badge requirements emphasize more thinking than doing. The hands-on tasks are now tucked into long lists of requirements that ask the scout to thoroughly Review/Describe/Explain/Illustrate/Demonstrate the underlying principles and context of the badge’s subject matter before trying their hand at it.

To illustrate these differences, below are some side-by-side comparisons of the old badges and their modern equivalents:


Camping is the activity for which the Boy Scouts are best known. In comparing the original camping merit badge to today’s, one can see how the hands-on requirements have been loosened; for example, Scouts formerly had to sleep out for 50 nights, know how to build a fire without matches, and construct a raft. On the flip side, the modern badge has decreased that requirement to 20 nights, and has greatly expanded the more mental requirements — making checklists, creating plans, and describing different camping guidelines and pieces of equipment.



I love the rigor here. “You can’t just invent something. It doesn’t count unless you patent it, kid!”


Firemanship/Fire Safety

What’s interesting here is that, as reflected in the change in the badge’s name, the 1911 badge is geared towards preparing the Scout to actually fight the fire and rescue people (as if encouraging boys to rush into a burning building was the most natural thing in the world), while the modern badge focuses on how to prevent and escape fires. It also includes that crucial skill: how to safely light a candle!



The pioneering badge is one of the coolest in my opinion, and the past and present versions still share some similarities. However, one difference is that instead of having to build a bridge or derrick, modern Scouts are asked to build a model of one. The original Scouts were required to build a shack, too. In fairness, a modern Scout may choose to build something like this for the pioneering project he gets to choose himself; however, in practice, what you end up with are a whole lot of monkey bridges. And the requirement for felling a tree ought to be brought back!



The cooking badge is a good example of where the modern hands-on requirements surpass or at least are commensurate with those of the original, while also being greatly augmented by safety concerns and other guidelines (the camping menu, for example, must follow the guidelines of the food pyramid). As a side note, it’s interesting to see how the respective handbooks’ menus have changed; the 1911 edition offers a recipe for frog legs, the 2009 version for tofu stew.



The fishing badge might be the clearest example of the watering down (pun intended!) of requirements in the present day. While Scouts at the turn of the century had to make two different rods themselves and catch ten fish of ten different species with them, the young modern angler must only reel in…one. In fairness, the old angling badge combined rod fishing and fly fishing, while today they are separate badges. Still, to earn the fly fishing badge, you again only have to catch one fish, so that if you caught the requisite number for each badge, you’d still only have caught 1/5 the haul required of the Scouts of yore.



All organizations that have been around for decades change and evolve in order to stay relevant with the current culture. I still think the Boy Scouts are a worthwhile organization in which to enroll one’s son or take part in as a young man. And I don’t think all the changes made to the modern badge requirements are entirely a “bad” thing. Some are sadly inevitable in our highly litigious society, where the BSA is just a bee sting away from a lawsuit. And excelling in modern society does require a higher degree of “soft skills” than it used to; the ability to plan and explain things will greatly help a young man though life as our workplace has become more thought-based and less hands-on.

Yet, I have to say that the spare, stripped-down requirements of the 1911 badges greatly appeal to me. Surely all the modern, preliminary study of the underlying context for a skill is important, but sooner or later you’ve got to get down to actually doing the thing. And the sooner the better in my opinion! There’s something to be said for learning by trial and error. In a world where everything is increasingly abstract, the more the Scouts can be a refuge of hands-on activity – a place where one can actually get their hands dirty with the concrete, tangible things of nature, the better. There’s also something to be said for challenging young men more than we sometimes do. Too often they struggle under the tyranny of low expectations, but they’re eager to rise to the challenge once pushed.

What do you think of the differences between the 1911 BSA handbook and merit badges and the new ones? Do they signal improvement or decay? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

{ 159 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Blue April 18, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Made it to Life in the mid 1980s. Hope my son will be interested in Scouts when he is old enough. Also Brave in the Tribe of Mic-O-Say.

Here’s the deal–any troop is only as good as the adult leaders. If you have men who are willing to take the boys out camping once a month, to organize hikes, to teach woodsmanship skills, the boys will get a lot out of the experience. The nominal merit badge requirements don’t matter. If the men who lead the troop either aren’t willing or aren’t able to provide that experience, it won’t. Find a troop where the leaders want to teach skills to the boys, not just run them through merit badges on the way to Eagle.

102 JMHawkins April 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm

A lot depends on the individual Troop. Different troops approach this differently. Ours is very outdoor, “learning by doing” focused. We hike and camp and build pioneering structures. We’re out there every month of the year, rain, snow, whatever.

Not every troop is like that, but if you look around, you can probably find an “old-school” scout troop that still teaches manliness. Don’t look for the troop with the most Eagle Scouts, look for the troop with the most backpacking trips.

103 JMHawkins April 19, 2013 at 1:39 am

Garret asks “Is there any organization like scouts, but for adults instead of children, which teaches these skills? I want very much to learn wilderness survival, camping and fishing, and all the other skills and personal improvements that Scouts once had to offer ”

Yes, there is. It’s called… Scouts! You can sign up as an adult leader and learn from the other adults. We’re glad to teach skills to adults too – more help for us down the road. But just like for the youth looking to join, you’ve got to find the right troop that still does the outdoor stuff.

104 Armand April 19, 2013 at 4:33 am

When I was in Scouts in the ’90s, all of our troop leaders were middle-aged women, which reveals a shocking passivity in the men in my hometown, and made for a very boring group for us boys. We met once a week in a Church basement. I remember one camping trip. There was no male mentoring going on. I had no idea any of it was supposed to help me learn to become a man. Eventually, the novelty of new badges on my shirt wore off, and I just got bored and quit. I suspect that my experience was probably not all that unique, given the general state of manhood in America in the past couple of generations. Thanks for this awesome website and for the constant encouragement to revive authentic manhood in our generation!

105 Doug Melzer April 19, 2013 at 9:59 am

My troop in the 70s was definitely an old school troop that valued camping and outdoor experiences. When they removed the requirement from Eagle Scout to have camping and other outdoor merit badges our Scoutmaster said ‘this troop won’t be submitting eagle candidates without those badges.’

106 Jared April 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm

It is really annoying to see that the moder variations focus so much on hazards.
Food poisoning seriously?
Smells bad?Doesn’t.
Was boiled for due time?Yes.
This fearmongering is disgusting.
How people can grow up to be manly when they are expected to talk ten minuets about the hazards of every single action they perform?
Kids should learn the mindset required to be safe and sound with whatever they are doing, and quickly briefed about the
not-so.obvious hazards.End of story.
Anyone without enough common sense to not to set camp near a beehive simply
should avoid outdoors organizations like plague.

107 Dick April 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I was never a Scout myself, But I was a Scouter for 20 years, Scoutmaster, Assitant Scoutmaster and Troop committee chairman, I was involved in two
different troops and was familiar with a bunch of others, With the right people the Troops always grew, With the wrong people they always shrunk, Troops that went on some outing every month always grew, The kids even kept their interest up during the weekly Meeting, Troops that only went out in nice weather lost kids alot, Then ther are the Troops that only have meetings once a week. My two boys got their best friends while in the Scouts.

108 Chris April 19, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Enjoy your site and many of your articles including this one. What struck me was your comment about our litigious society. I find it repulsive what lawyers have done to our great nation. Knowing that you are a lawyer I would like to get your thoughts on this. How do you reconcile what is obviously a decline in personal responsibility and values with the need to find someone to sue. How might lawyers be kept in check so that they may not cause further decay in personal responsibility? Please know that I can appreciate a land of laws and justice however, I find the warning labels on everything from ladders to golf balls utterly demoralizing . Sad what we have been reduced to .
Please feel free to contact me for I would not mind discussing with you what might be done to bring this country back to a sensible, respectable condition . Regards, Chris

109 Mark April 20, 2013 at 9:25 am

Eagle in 1975, Scouter in the 90′s and 00′s. The current program is still solid, but does feel significantly watered down- you should see the differences even in the old Cub Scout books compared to the new ones.

One interesting thing is that most parents today would not willingly LET their kids go through a lot of the old program- camping and hiking without adults?

Another interesting thing is the overall costs- the uniform is expensive, the gear most people drag on a campout is expensive.

Then there is the typical Scout campout, which nowadays resembles more of a small invasion force- lots of troops use those portable garages for group housing, massive stoves, etc.- useful, but not helping the youth learn to be able to do this on their own.

On the other hand, there is also a rather significant ‘back to basics’ movement within Scouting, which is heartening, but I fear will always be a minority voice.

110 Marty Thorp April 20, 2013 at 7:25 pm

I just earned my Eagle several months ago. For the hundred year anniversory they brought back four of the previously retired merit badges: Carpentry, Pathfinding, Tracking (was previously Stalking) and Signaling. I was lucky enough to earn all four, and they are by far the ones I am most proud of. My favorite is Signaling. It is probably the hardest I have done.

111 G. Archer April 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm

“It all depends on the leaders.”

There is enough flexibility in Scouting to accommodate a wide variety of interests. If we value manliness as a virtue, then we should recognize that manliness is about integrity, courage, responsibility, discipline and initiative. Scouts teach these values better than any other large national organization.

Scouting has three Aims: Character Building, Citizenship Training, and Personal Fitness (Physical, Mental, Moral). This fundamental mission has not wavered even while Scouting has adapted for the times in a 100-year experiment to stay current and relevant. That alone is impressive!

If you want Scouts to stay “hard-core” then volunteer. You will be doing a huge favor for some boys who will be our future leaders. And you can help preserve *manliness*!

112 S.Woodson April 21, 2013 at 12:29 am

I am an Eagle Scout of the 70′s and my son is an Eagle Scout of the 21st century. I served as Scoutmaster and ensured the troop engaged in monthly camping trips (even during harsh mid-western winters). We held our own outings for our advanced scouts too. The key to good program is to set parameters, then let the boys do the planning, every month for all outings. We avoided events that the average family could do and instead offered adventures unlikely to be done in a family setting. We guided several scouts in achieving the rank of Eagle… but, our goal was providing learning opportunities and adventure.

113 D. Morse April 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Seems like the boyscouts created men 100 years ago, today it looks like their creating research assistants.

114 Richard April 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm

As a scout leader, albeit Canadian, it is interesting to see how much the programs have changed over time.

115 Larry Green April 22, 2013 at 9:21 am

The overly protective and restrictive safety measures applied to pioneering is very frustrating, but fortunately we’ve come up with a variety of challenging alternatives. However, the emphasis on building a model (there’s a number of little modeling kits out there nowadays) in lieu of a real project, coupled with loose requirements for an actual project unfortunately can minimize the actual hands on pioneering experience if not wholly sacrifice it altogether.

116 j witt April 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Love Scouting, I am an Eagle, but going through it again with my two sons-one to Eagle the other Life, I think was even better. I got to help charge up the troop and boys. Enjoyed making them think outside the box, pursue trips beyond the norm. If the adults are willing to guide but not lead, and commit to the troop it really allows the boys (& young men)to do and be so much more!

117 Blake April 23, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Eagle Scout here, plenty of good memories going on overnight backpacking trips and earning merit badges in the nineties. I think scouting made a big difference in my development as an adult. Unfortunately, I concluded shortly after high school that the foundation of my faith was well, not true. I knew a scoutmaster a few years back, lds affiliated, that was happy to receive my old camping equipment as a donation but politely dodged my offer to help out in person. So, anyway, for me I’m from the outside looking in with the Boy Scouts as clearly they are a religious affiliated group. Bending the rules to accept atheists as role models is, from their perspective, part of the weakening of the value system of this country. So it goes, I guess.

118 Adam April 25, 2013 at 8:38 am

Great post! Another Eagle here. I worked at my local summer camp for much of high school and college. From my experiences there, I can totally empathize with the appeal of the 1911 requirements. In my first years on camp staff, I didn’t quite get how to effectively teach young kids. I remember boring them when we would be going through all of the merit badge requirements that make them explain this or that. It’s not effective to sit down at a picnic table on the first day of camp! It took a couple of years to figure out that the scouts will learn more if you start with the fun stuff and weave that explanation stuff in along the way. Whether or not it’s a memorable experience depends on the merit badge counselor. The kids are much more engaged if there is activity in your discussions.

119 Aaron Hildebrand April 25, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I am an Eagle Scout and grew up in scouts my whole life. As I look at these differences between the requirements then and now I can’t help but wish that the requirements were more so like the older ones. The more rigorous requirements of the older merit badges would improve the skills of the scouts. For example, the differences between the fishing merit badges are incredible. I wish that I were made to make my own rod and catch numerous of fish rather than the requirements of today’s badge. Yes I do agree and am aware that things change as our society changes throughout the years but doesn’t justify for the change to “softer skills” of the scouts. I also agree that it does have a lot to do within each individual troop but the requirements of the scouts as a whole were more like the older ones, than this would increase each scout’s camping, survival, and leadership skills. With this said, I am not saying that Scouting now does none of this, that is not true. I learned a ton of skills from scouting that I will remember for the rest of my life, but I can’t help but to think how much more I would have learned if I was a scout in 1911.

120 Scoutmaster Mike April 25, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Great topic, guys! I’ve been involved in the Scouting program since 1981, got my Eagle, and am now a 5-year Scoutmaster for 20+ young men. It’s the best job in the world, and even though the requirements for the badges may have changed, the basic skills haven’t. Camping in general is challenging. So is using a knife or splitting wood for a fire. Just getting boys to learn how to build and maintain a proper fire… Learning to deal with Mother Nature (cheerfully), while cooking your dinner in a rainstorm… all challenging to a nation of indoor video-gamer youth.
Our group just finished the Hiking badge – we hiked over 75 miles – 20 of it was in one day! What boys outside of this program will get up off the couch to hike 20 miles???!!!
I still believe tying knots, basic first aid, building a fire, cooking for yourself, woodsmanship, and preparing for a week in the Out-of-Doors as relevant skills for today – even if your name isn’t Bear Grylls… Also relevant are the lessons of citzenship, being prepared, respect for our military personnel and the U.S. Flag, staying physically, mentally, and morally fit, and knowing your duty to God, Country, and ones-self. My Dad involved me in this program – and my sons are third generation in the Scouting program. My oldest just got his Eagle. How cool is THAT?!!!
You know what Manliness is?… Teaching your kid to fish and hunt… Showing him how to cook… ON CAST IRON! Helping him get through that 10 mile hike (in a rain- or snow-storm)… Teaching him that mischief can be fun – without being destructive.
Men used to sit around the campfire and pass on their knowledge to their sons. Maybe that’s why kids keep on repeating the same 10,000 stupid mistakes we’ve already made…

121 Robert April 26, 2013 at 2:02 am

I was a scout in the mid 90′s (Life rank) in a small rural town and our troop was the manliest in our region. Our leaders were old crusty masters who forced us to learn the old-school skills of scouting – first aid, knots, fire-building, etc. Every year at every gathering our troop (most of the time 6-10 members) took all the awards, running circles around the panty-waisted women-run troops. We were the ones who tent camped at the winter camps while the other troops slept in cabins. It was our troop who hiked all the way around Mount Rainier. We did a 50 miler on the WA coast. We were individually responsible for earning merit-badges. I literally ran out of time to get Eagle because I was working on our family’s farm and couldn’t put the time in to meet our council’s ridiculous planning and meeting prerequisites. My best friend missed his because a stupid technicality delayed some approval and he turned 18.
That said, I owe my manliness to that troop. I am deeply saddened by scouting’s pandering to “modern” sensibilities, and I have a sneaking feeling another group will eventually rise up and take its place:

122 Eagle Scout April 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm

As my name would imply, I earned the rank of Eagle Scout several years ago. I also earned several of the merit badges listed here.

TL;DNR: The balance between thought and academic work for merit badges has been made to provide boys in the early 21st century the knowledge that they would have had first hand growing up in the early 20th century. The requirements for Eagle have, in my opinion actually been raised.

As with any organization, there is bound to be change. As the United States has continued to urbanize, there are many things that a lot of young men won’t ever need to do. I, for one, rarely go camping or backpacking, yet those are integral parts of the Boy Scout program, parts that I certainly enjoyed. Other activities that I never do include Woodcarving, Leatherworking, and Fingerprinting, yet I earned each of these merit badges.

There are certainly benefits and arguments for the earlier requirements for the merit badges, primarily that they do give young men the experience. There is a lot of study and academic work that goes into merit badges now – but there are still a lot of hands on activities. A common theme for merit badge requirements is safety, history/background, principles/theory, practical application, and potential careers. There are a lot of demonstration requirements and an equal number of “tell me” requirements. But the requirements, as was noted, have become significantly more in depth. It also depends on the subject of the merit badge. There is, in fact, a Scholarship merit badge – there are not many hands-on activities involved in scholarship. But the Camping merit badge does require packing a bag for an overnight trip, demonstrating how to set up a tent, demonstrating first aid, and actually camping. There is a stark contrast between the subjects of the merit badges, and the corresponding requirements

What does interest me is the change in the content of the Handbook. I was not aware of chapters on Chivalry, Citizenship and Patriotism in the first edition. These are mentioned in newer editions, but they make up a fairly small portion of the book. However, I do seem to recall that my Handbook (the edition previous to the one pictured) did have chapters or sections that expounded on the Scout Oath, Law, Motto, and Slogan – each of which forms a part of Chivalry, Citizenship, and Patriotism. An argument could also be made that these were no longer included in the handbook because they became merit badge requirements. In fact, there are three merit badges that have the word citizenship in the title: Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World.

But what is not mentioned at all is the requirements for Eagle Scout. In addition to 21 merit badges, no fewer than 5 personal references are required, showing that the candidate does live the Scouting values. The Scout must also hold a leadership position within the troop for at least 6 months. Also, the earliest requirements for Eagle, as far as I can tell, do not require the Eagle Scout Service Project, an exhaustively planned project that the candidate leads and must gain approval at three different levels. At least according to Wikipedia, the Service Project was not introduced until around 1927.

Overall, I think the changes that have been made have been made at an appropriate level and pace to what they are in respects to what many boys will experience. Many boys in the early 20th century would have had the opportunity to do many things at home that boys in the early 21st century would not. They do a good job of preparing boys to become young men that will make a difference in the world.

123 Mark April 30, 2013 at 12:04 am

I was in the scouts in the late 50′s and early 60′s. I have spent over 30 years as an adult leader in various positions. I may or may not agree with some of the changes that have taken place over the years, but if we are to continue to exist, we have to have the ability to change with the times. As long as we continue to focus on the core values of the Scout Oath and Law and what they stand for and can infuse the boys with these values, I will be happy to continue to work with them. Some of the most satisfying times that I have had are watching the transition of boys into responsible young men.

124 Jeremy May 3, 2013 at 3:04 pm

You can download the entire 1911 handbook on Project Gutenburg for free. I read all of the Merit Badge requirements and was amazed. My favorite was the Archery Merit Badge. You had to make your own bow and arrows that shoot accurately and then shoot far enough and fast enough to have 6 arrows in the air at one time. That just blows my mind!

125 tyrannophobe May 5, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I really don’t care about scouting at all, what I did like was seeing the old badges. They looked so much better than the new ones!

126 Garrison May 8, 2013 at 11:55 am

I’m an eagle scout and i never got much out of the handbook. it was there mainly as a place to mark off requirements. all the learning of values and skills was done by leaders.

A refuge for the manliness of scouting is found at philmont. here boys are forced to take leadership role on a 50 -130 mile backpacking trip. along the way they learn skills used by cowboys,, lumberjacks, homesteaders, and a lot more. there i still see the original boy scouts

127 I Used to Be A Beaver May 10, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I was a Cub/Boy Scout for 13 years in the late ’50′s – early ’70′s. Attended Philmont & National Jambo. 27 merit badge Life Scout. Eagle was much tougher and much more elite then, no substuitions, if you couldn’t do the pull ups, no physical fitness m.b., no Eagle. That was my road block. However, no stigma with falling short in those days as in our super active Troop only 1 out of 100 boys attained Eagle, it was rare and a real honor. I’ve been an adult leader for over 30 years and SM for 9 and today a boy who goes to summer camp 3 years and attends one or two merit badge weekends will be almost guaranteed his Eagle. If he is physically or mentally disabled an alternative path will be offered. I’m not faulting the new system but folks, it just isn’t as tough to earn your Eagle today. BSA likes to claim only 1 out of 50 attain the rank but this is not accurate from my observation. In the troops I’ve been associated with over 50% of the boys will get Eagle. Most will immediately drop out of Scouting (we call it “Eagle Out”) to pursue other activities. I often attend merit badge classes at summer camp and am appalled how many m.b.’s are given out by just attending. Forestry m.b. is awarded without even meeting with a forester or visiting a wood processing facility. I questioned a young forestry m.b. counselor once and was told he expected the scout’s parents to take them to a processing plant! I’m not trying to be overly critical, but I do feel that merit badges in general are much easier to attain and often handed out compared to decades ago when we had to find a counsler in our community to work with us outside the troop environment. Meetings were for leaning skills, not merit badge clinics and many troops now run. Anyway, still proud to be associated with the BSA and proud of the boys I’ve worked with become men.

128 Dave Lenton May 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Their should be an organization called the Century Scouts of America, only instead of the BSA, they use all the rules, gear, etc… of a century prior.

The eagle scouts of the CSA could rival any wilderness specialist.

129 John May 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

You know how some people go back to school (university) to study, well I wish that BSA had something like “For Those of You Who Didn’t Get The Chance Or Decided to Bypass Boy Scouts” program.

130 Roger May 26, 2013 at 8:36 am

While some Merit Badges have had the requirements diminished, the variety & scope of the badges have increased dramatically. The intent of the MB program is to lead the Scouts, in some instances (the Eagle-Required badges), thru some subjects they would not have chosen on their own. But the optional badges allow them to investigate a subject of their choice. These badges can lead to a vocation or life-long hobby. Or they can just “scratch an itch” and the Scout learns that the subject was not as interesting to him as he had originally thought. Even in that situation, he has learned about a new subject and improved his knowledge base. A win-win.

131 Steve May 28, 2013 at 10:57 pm

It’s logical that badges change as skills come into and out of usefulness, but some things, like shoeing a horse, would be awesome to learn even if you never do it again.

The biggest shame is all the paperwork now required to earn a badge. Kids, boys especially are hands on learners. I failed my high school mechanics class even though I was getting 95+% on the tests and projects, mainly because the class was 80% paperwork. Granted I could have forced myself to do that paperwork, and would have if I was the person then that I am now, but I feel that it’s the biggest pitfall of the education system that they are unwilling to teach in the way kids, and especially boys, learn best.

132 Doug Walker May 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I was a Scout from 1966-1976 [Arrow of Light then Life (very much regret not making the effort for Eagle)]. My units were all definitely Old School; all of our leaders were WW2, Korea & Vietnam vets. That probably explains why I was a Marine Infantry Officer for 20 years…. When my boys came of age, I became a Scout Leader (1995-8, 2005-present). Though following “The Book,” I passed a lot of Old School wisdom down to the boys. Frankly, I am disgusted by the recent decision of National– against the wishes of those participating in the program– 61% opposed according to the AP story– to cave to the liberals. While I am extremely proud of the young men who have earned their Eagle under my watchful eye (and firm boot), I feel this decision has continued to tear the fabric of everything Baden-Powell and his peers created. I am ready to walk away because I’m not willing to compromise my principles. What say you?

133 Alex June 23, 2013 at 9:25 am

As someone who got Eagle several months ago (started as a Cub Scout -> Arrow of Light -> Eagle), I’d just like to say that the cuts to the handbook are probably a good thing in today’s society and better adapted for achieving the purposes of Boy Scouts (or at least, they were effective in teaching me the right things). Technology plays such a huge role right now that it’s best if scouts actually learn skills like leadership through their personal actions as opposed to the theoretical steps proposed in the old handbook.
Much of the chivalry and good character aspects are interwoven throughout merit badges, rank requirements, etc and thus most people can learn these things implicitly, without specific lessons.

134 Ed Walsh June 27, 2013 at 10:08 pm

My troop was a bit like the 1911 BSA when I joined, but once the weenie fathers took over it lost some integrity and ruggedness. By the time I reached Eagle, the biggest wimp I knew (a morbidly obese, sneaky, weaselly type) had made it through by cutting the corners and getting pushovers to sign off on things. Maybe my troop is just an oddball case, but I don’t know…Hope the BSA turns this around.

135 Steve August 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Sad state of affairs when you have to go over an inordinate amount of planning, and describe risk profiles in detail before actually doing the tasks to obtain merit badges.

It’s a sign of the times sadly.

Having said that, I will still have my son participate in Scouting, as the pros far outweigh the cons.

136 Craig August 22, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I had to comment. I stopped after getting my Life rank, but I’ve done stuff that most scouts don’t do anymore. 20 miles in the mountains of Washington, back to back 50 milers, first afoot, then afloat (Always more than 50 miles). One 50 miler every year. I taught knot tying for cub scouts. I may not have the Eagle rank, but I can look back on those experiences and know that I am capable. The scouts that I know today don’t do anything that they’ll remember when they are old. Call it hard core or traditional scouting, but it needs to come back. The boys need those experiences.

137 Tim September 11, 2013 at 5:19 am

A friend at work was telling me horror stories of a recent Scout camp out he went on with his son. He and the scoutmaster were the only men there but all the boys moms were there. And apparently they had the scoutmaster trained to ask nothing of them or the kids! I hope this is not too common…

My old scoutmaster was an ex Marine drill sergeant and as much as we hated him at the time I do think he taught us well ha ha

138 Grayson October 5, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Earned my Eagle last decade, and also spent time after Scouts in the Venture crews and as a camp counselor teaching cooking and scoutcraft, including the year of the anniversary. I have loved reading through the old handbooks, especially the original, and while the badges have been watered down over the years, I think something else is happening as well here.

It is not necessarily that requirements are becoming easier because of an assumption about the boys’ qualifications, but instead a focus on giving the boys a taste of the activities rather than making them experts. In some respects this is laudable, as it allows the boys time to explore many different activities, and give them experience in a wide range of interests. In other respects, it produces troops upon troops of boys who have little more than an interesting personal narrative, but no real outdoor skills.

The leadership and preparedness skills that I earned in the Scouts stick with me today, and I am grateful for them. These skills are taught through nearly all of the organizations activities. And I still retain a love for these types of activities. But I am sad to admit that most of the hands-on skills I learned have faded away with very little time.

139 Scouter Jeff October 29, 2013 at 1:59 pm
I enrolled my kids in “traditional” scouting, and volunteer as a leader. There are BPSA and “traditional” organizations all over, but more commonly in Europe. BSA and Scouts Canada has its place, but for my kids scouting is about learning real skills in a more traditional setting. From what I’ve seen of local Scout troops, our female Explorer troop knows more about “manliness” and is afflicted with far less “helicopter” parenting.

140 Brian_PNW December 3, 2013 at 8:21 am

It’s fashionable to mock how pathetic things are in the present compared to the “good old days.” Usually, however, such sneering does not stand up to serious scrutiny.

It makes a lot more sense to admit that the evolution of the text of the handbook, and of the merit badge requirements, reflects the practical experience of actually operating Scout troops (after the inception of Scouting in the U.S. in 1910), and seeing what actually works.

The Invention merit badge is a good example. It was first offered in 1911, and discontinued in 1915. Out of some 400,000 boys who registered as Scouts in BSA’s first 5 years, only ten earned the Invention badge! (Indeed, it seems that no examples of that badge are known to have survived.)

When the leaders of Scouting in 1915 dropped a merit badge that required a Scout to patent an invention, that didn’t mean that they were wussing out. It meant that they had the good sense to recognize that a certain requirement was simply an impractical one for teenage boys, and hadn’t worked out. Good for them that they could recognize a mistake, and learn from it.

141 Reg A.Klubeck March 23, 2014 at 12:13 am

This is my 33rd active year in Scouting (first joined in 1973 at 12 years old). MANY many changes over the years – they’re getting ready to completely revamp the merit badge system in 2015, making it “more action-oriented, and less about writing reports.” IMHO, dumbing it down again.

In the 60s and 70s, it was generally understood that earning your Eagle was the equivalent of 4 years of college. Not so anymore, unfortunately.

142 Ivan Mallett April 14, 2014 at 9:52 am

I agree with this article as a boyscout myself, but as an Eagle I am disappointed to see that the qualification differences were not mentioned in the article. While most of the BSA has become “less manly” the feat of becoming an Eagle Scout has become increasingly difficult since the conception of the Boyscouts, which is made even more difficult because anyone who aspires to become an Eagle Scout has to break the mold of a traditional Boyscout of 2014, so while being a Boyscout is becoming less respected by society, being an Eagle Scout should be reveared more than ever before.

143 ctd April 14, 2014 at 10:03 am

Got my Eagle in the ’80s. We went camping every month (despite snow in NY) and learned plenty of hands-on can-do get-done skills. Plenty of great memories, random one being: after a night under tents in pouring rain, we went to the fire…and found a single persisting spark, from which we managed to coax a warm blaze again.

I like the old handbook, with its undertone of “you’re becoming a MAN”. Newest one…my eyes just glaze over for the voluminous text, knowing most of it is based in timidity. Baden-Powell created Scouting precisely to train otherwise incapable boys into men, ready for soldiering. He’d blanch at it being subverted into political correctness and bureaucracy. Maybe Trail Life will revive Baden-Powell’s vision.

144 Stephen C. April 14, 2014 at 10:55 am

Wow, what an interesting comparison. I’m an Eagle Scout myself, but there are a few things on the 1911 list that I couldn’t do…

Could Art of Manliness do a series of articles on how to be a 1911 Scout? I’d love to learn how to do some of the aforementioned skills. And I’m sure there are even more from other merit badges!

145 Dan K. April 14, 2014 at 11:50 am

Proud Eagle Scout, Order of the Arrow, God & Country, etc… from a troop in small town Ohio, in the late-80′s and early 90′s. I have had no contact with scouting in 20 years. The leadership and its reinforcement of these manly virtues makes all the difference in the success and personality of a troop. In my troop, we camped every month, all seasons, and I learned the value of being prepared when it went below zero one night during our district’s “winter camp-oree” Klondike Derby, at 14 years of age, and I got COLD. Being an Eagle used to mean ELITE, in dedication and achievement. My great uncle was an Eagle and almost no one else I knew was. I loved his older manual, (1940s) scouting seemed so much more rugged and old-fashioned (and HARD) in the good way, but I always felt the updates to the manual for my era, were logical and reflected the times, up to the point I was done. It must evolve. All things do, or they die.

146 Bruce Williamson April 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Interesting the Theodore Roosevelt wrote the introduction to the 1911 manual. One of his relatives is a member of my Freemason lodge and he has been a scout mater for years.

147 Dave H. April 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm

I was just explaining some of the difference between what I think scouting has become, what it was when I was a scout (90′s, Eagle in ’97), and what I read about in my Dad’s handbook and some old merit badge books. When I was a kid I kept my dads book under my bed and fantasized about going on “real adventures,” like just going out into the woods and camp for a couple of days in the summer. Mentioning this today, I feel, would put a kid in some sort of meeting with a Psychiatrist. I understand that times are changing, but I really value some of the things I have learned from scouting, people skills, a love and respect for the outdoors and nature, and a responsibility to do things for my fellow citizens of the city, state, country, and planet. I like to think scouting has enabled me to be a better person, and wish it would continue to produce good citizens. The one thing I would like it to do is be more accepting of people, as well all have something to offer, and to look back on where the program came from before we venture too far from the initial ideas with all the changes that have and will occur.

148 Harry R. Burger April 14, 2014 at 1:40 pm

I’ll just leave this link right here:

Also, the archery merit badge in 1910 included, “Shoot so far and so fast as to have 6 arrows in the air at once.” That was my favorite example of a good change.

It might be nice to have the basic badge and and an advanced version, for those who really care enough to go at it hardcore. Like doing the extra camp outs, or getting the different fish, building full scale pioneering projects.

Sometimes there isn’t room to build enough structures for 30 boys to take the badge at once at camp, and tying all those knots neatly at small scale isn’t easy, so I wouldn’t knock that, but there is something very satisfying about building a full scale tower that a model just doesn’t give you. Says the guy who worked Pioneering staff at the 2010 National Jamboree.

Also in fairness, we have different sensibilities about conservation now. For example, chopping down a tree sounds badass and all, but if every boy who comes to camp cuts down one tree, soon you run out of trees. As an Eagle Scout, I got to do that once, because there was a problem with too many trees per acre, so none of them got enough nutrients to grow properly, so the ecosystem was out of whack.

149 Disappointed April 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Completed my Eagle in late ’50′s and enjoyed the male bonding……we were boys with few restrictions, and were self-disciplined. Pranks were common in good fun. Stripped off and swam naked in lakes, rivers……we were all kinds of boys from all kinds of backgrounds and were tolerant and accepting. Then headquarters got their panties in a wad and excluded capable, much needed leaders (who just might be gay), and even suspected boys for awhile. It can never be the same with a sense of bigotry, hardly the values now I’d teach my sons. I’ve considered returning my Eagle, but I earned it from handbook of the day. (alas).

150 Mike April 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm

So i became an Eagle scout in September 2008 and the new requirements are easier than what we had to do. To me being a scout meant something and it was hard but had some of the best times and made some best friends being involved in scouts for over 15 years. My son one day will join the scout unless they all go to shit. I really feel that being in the scouts shaped me into the hard working man I am today.

151 Parker April 14, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Tiger Cub through Eagle Scout here. It is my belief that the newer ranks are actually a good thing for Scouts, and I’ll explain why:
- Using the resources you have available to you. Resources doesn’t just mean a knife, hatchet, and an oak tree. Now resources are the technologies we have available. In fact, I believe there isn’t enough technology based merit badges and rank requirements out there!
- Career Skills… what will you spend around 1/3 of your life doing? Working! Modern Scouts help prepare young men for a career by exposing them to many different fields. Instead of guessing what area you would like to work and going for it, modern Scouts can get a taste for what they really enjoy.
- Life Skills… despite what “manly men” say, life is more than fixing the lock on a door and building cabinets for your house. Guess what? You also have to clean and cook! As per the above article, the Cooking MB now is much larger, and no respectable Scoutmaster will let you go without washing your mess kit!
- Social Skills… society (yes, you may hate it, but you must follow its rules to be successful) is more and more about interaction with others. Interaction with others is no longer just about helping a friend build something or fishing with your friends, it’s about communication (MB!) and helping those in need. Plus, business look for workers with great social skills.
- Experience… okay, you didn’t experience felling a tree or shoeing a horse. Sorry, but you DID get to experience how to fix a car, shoot a gun, ride in a plane, and use some cutting edge technologies. Come on, which would modern Scouts prefer anyway?
To sum it up, not only so I believe Scouts are heading in the right direction, they are changing to meet modern boy’s needs.

152 Matthew April 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I appreciate that this website is more relevant/angled towards the US scouting movement (BSA), however I feel I should add my 2 cents… so to speak.

I’ve been involved in scouting here in Cape Town, South Africa since approx. 1996. I became a Springbok Scout (our equivalent of your Eagle Scout) back in 2005, and went on to run our sea scout troop (1st Fish Hoek Sea Scouts), as a Troop Scouter and now as an Assistant Troop Scouter. I feel our scouting requirements, although having also evolved to accommodate updated safety requirements of the 21st century, are still somewhat more hard-core than what is described in the American counterparts. We certainly have a more outdoors oriented focus (mothers in camp???)! The religiousness of the BSA is also quite a point I pick up, as many of us are atheists here, and it makes no difference!

I cannot express how deeply scouting has equipped me for my career as an exploration geologist working throughout parts of Africa (in some seriously rugged and remote areas, where being prepared can literally save your life), and will always live on within me as great experiences and memories. Scouting really is a very positive force within the world, I certainly think so and I’m sure many others feel the same. I truly hope scouting (internationally) can return to what Baden-Powell imagined, a hands-on approach to life (learn by doing) and away from the “careful-careful don’t hurt yourself” PC trajectory it’s currently moving along!

One another note, scouting was actually first field-tested here in South Africa (during the Anglo-Boer war 1899-1901), and I actually drove through the very town last week (Mafikeng), where Sir Robert Baden-Powell put his ideas to the test against the Boer commandos besieging the town.

Cheers all, and happy scouting!


153 Leif April 14, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Scouting takes place at the unit level, that is, the Troop (or Pack for Cub Scouts). It’s as good as the unpaid volunteers are. Scouting had always been boy led too. The “flavor” of Scouting very much depends on what the boys want to do. Baden Powell is still my inspiration in Scouting.
-former Scout, current Scout Master.

154 Reid April 14, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Unfortunately, like many wonderful organizations the business of Boy Scouts is killing the Boy Scouts.

155 Joe April 14, 2014 at 5:09 pm

An Eagle Scout today is not the same thing as an Eagle Scout in the 1970s. We have four recent Eagles in our troop that can’t tie a bowline and never lit a fire without using matches or a lighter.

We need a new way for the truly excellent young men to be recognized.

156 Ariel Solomon April 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm
Baden-Powell Service Association

157 Kevin Slagle April 14, 2014 at 6:39 pm

I became an Eagle Scout 43 years ago when many of requirements had not changed. Yes, I built a monkey bridge and lashed together a tower. Went on to Order of the Arrow too, where we dumped in the woods at night with no supplies and had to find our way back as an initiation. I taught my son many of the skills before he joined the scouts. I went to stay with him at his first camp and he wanted to leave. He knew more about orienteering than the instructors, could shoot a bow and a gun better, and was chastised for speaking up when they were wrong. We left and spent the week in the mountains ourselves and never went back.

158 Josh April 15, 2014 at 7:20 am

Cub Scouts is a “family” activity according to BSA. That same “family” mentality bleeds over into Boy Scouts and parents NEVER let go. They hover and attend every meeting and do everything for their kids. Conversely they don’t actually volunteer so that they would have to get training and follow rules, instead they just occupy space. Cub Scouts has that built in. Boy scouts does not. Mom and dad hover in scout meetings to make sure their precious little boy never has to deal with any consequences of his actions. They expect and demand their sons become Eagle Scouts but do all the work for them. It is not an entitlement it is an achievement for your son after years of hard work on his part, but to them it is something to put on a college resume one day.

I recently took 25 of the kids camping. They were supposed to plan their troop gear list and pull out all troop gear, load it on the trailer and get in vehicles on their own. Instead what happened is 25 boys stood around looking at each other trying to figure out how to get in vehicles after they loaded the trailer (and left several key pieces of gear behind). As the weather rolled in I grew impatient gathered the kid that was supposed to be in charge, told him get everyone in a freakin vehicle so we can get moving. What I got was historically stupid parents (the same ones that sent an 11 yo to summer camp a few years back with a pocket knife the length of his forearm, and that wanted to hand him a live musket for a camporee that the boys were using wooden mock guns to re-enact a fake civil war battle) telling me not to yell at their son. If I was yelling they would know it and that was definitely not it.

Typical stupidity, then at the end of the campout, where it rained for 3 days straight with a whopping 15 minute break in the rain; I had parents complain that their ill –prepared sons were wet and muddy. Hmm, 3 days of non-stop rain, 11-16 yo kids, I wonder why they got wet and muddy. Only a minority of parents looked at their kids and said to them, “I bet you learned a lot”. Most immediately went to, “my poor baby” mode.

159 Jax April 15, 2014 at 11:51 am

I think it would do us some good to get back to the basics of the skills learned by the BSA back in the day. I see too many young men unable to change their tires, or afraid to take a fishing trip in the mountains. Men need to be men, and their are certain skills that will always be necessary. That will never change.

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