"I AM GOING to show you how you can learn Scoutcraft for yourself and put it into
practice at home."
This promise appeared in the opening pages of Scouting for Boys, the handbook
that was to introduce Baden-Powell’s Scouting program first in Great Britain and later in
the rest of the world. B-P and his publisher had decided to issue the handbook in six
paperback installments, which would appear on bookstalls and newstands every other week.
Afterwards, the complete book would be published in an inexpensive clothbound edition.
Part I appeared on January 15, 1908. It resembled a pocketsize magazine, sold for four
pence (ten cents) a copy, and was described on the title page as "A Handbook for
Instruction in Good Citizenship."
The booklet began with a Foreword for Instructors. "By the term ‘Instructor,"
wrote B-P, "I mean any man or lad who takes up the training of either a Patrol (six
to eight boys), or a Troop (several patrols joined together). By means of this book I hope
that everyone, even without previous knowledge of scouting, may be able to teach it to
boys-in town as well as in the country."
Instead of presenting his scouting program in ordinary textbook fashion, B-P had
written a series of entertaining Camp Fire Yarns, similar to stories he might have told
around the campfire at Brownsea Island. The first yarn opened with a description of the
"Mafeking Boy Scouts" who had come so eagerly to the defense of their town. B-P
then told about the work of various kinds of "peace scouts"-frontiersmen,
explorers, pioneers, missionaries, and so forth. Peace scouting, he said, was both an
exciting outdoor adventure and a challenging way to become a useful member of one’s own
community. "You need not wait for war in order to be helpful as a scout," B-P
wrote. "As a peace scout there is lots for you to do, wherever you may be."
This Yarn ended with "A good example of what a Boy Scout can do." The example
was a condensation of Kim, Rudyard Kipling’s story about a boy whose intimate knowledge of
India makes him a valuable asset of the English Secret Service.
The second Camp Fire Yarn introduced B-P’s Boy Scout program: "To become a Boy
Scout you join a patrol belonging to your Cadet Corps, or Boys’ Brigade, or club. If you
are not a member of one of these, or if it does not as yet possess a patrol of scouts, you
can raise a patrol yourself by getting five other boys to join. They should, if possible,
be all about the same age. One boy is then chosen as Patrol Leader to command the patrol,
and he selects another boy to be the corporal or second in command. Several patrols
together can form a ‘Troop’ under an officer called the ‘Scoutmaster.’ "
B-P went on to describe the sort of things a Boy Scout learned-nature lore, observation
and deduction, tracking, stalking, camping in the open, laying fires, tying knots,
signaling, pathfinding, and so on. Along with these outdoor skills, a Scout was also
expected to know about good health practices, physical fitness, first-aid, life-saving,
patriotism, and what B-P called "Chivalry," or helping others. "One of the
chief duties of a Scout," he wrote, "is to help those in distress in any
possible way you can." This Yarn ended with "The Elsdon Mystery," a story
about an observant boy detective who uses scouting skills to solve a murder mystery.
The Third Camp Fire Yarn dealt with practical matters important to any future Scout. It
set forth the tests and qualifications for second and first-class Scout, for three badges
of honor (in signaling, stalking, and first-aid), and for special life-saving and
meritorious-service medals. It presented the Scout Oath and Scout Motto, and it described
the Scout salute, Scout songs, secret calls and signs, and the Scout Badge, described by
B-P as "the arrow head, which shows north on the compass."
The fourth Camp Fire Yarn presented the Scout Law.
These four Yarns were followed by instructions for several scouting games and contests.
The booklet ended with a "Scout’s play," accompanied by directions for making
the costumes and scenery.
The next five installments of Scouting for Boys were similar to Part I but dealt
in much greater detail with the scouting activities B-P had already outlined. All six
installments were published as a complete book on May 1, 1908. By the end of the year,
this book had been reprinted five times and was already being translated into several
It was translated into dozens of languages as scouting spread overseas, and was also
expanded and revised many times to keep pace with a growing Scout movement and a changing
In the United States, Scouting for Boys was eventually replaced by another
handbook written to meet the particular needs of the Boy Scouts of America. In several
other countries, Scout associations also developed their own special handbooks. And in
Great Britain, a new, up-to-date handbook was recently issued for British Scouts.
Yet all these modern handbooks stem directly from the original version of Scouting
for Boys, which emphasized outdoor life and service to others and thus presented the
essentials of scouting as it is still practiced today.
The first issue of The Scout magazine, meanwhile, had appeared on April 18, 1908.
Priced at a penny a copy, it featured mystery and adventure stories by popular boys’
writers of the time, along with articles on such subjects as "Why Scouts Must Keep
Fit," "Things All Scouts Should Know," "How to Become a Scout,"
and "The Best Dog for Scouting." But the highlight of this first issue was an
article written by B-P, called "How Scouting Started."
"I have suggested scouting as a good thing for boys because I began it myself when
I was a boy," he wrote. B-P told about the hiking and boating trips he had taken with
his brothers, and about his experiences in the Copse at Charterhouse. Then he described
some of his adventures as an army scout. Finally he explained how the idea of
peace-scouting had occurred to him:
"Some years ago I wrote a little book of scouting instruction for soldiers in the
cavalry, and when I came home after the war I was astonished to find that this book was
being issued in a great many schools. So I thought how much better it would be if I wrote
a book about peace-Scouting for Boys….
"By forming ‘patrols’ of scouts in different places I hope to get all the
different boys’ clubs to come into close touch with each other, and for all boys to be
scouts, and therefore useful men and good friends among themselves."
By the time all six installments of Scouting for Boys had appeared, B-P had been
recalled to active military duty. Great Britain was organizing a new Territorial Army made
up of volunteers who would be trained to support the Regular Army in wartime.
Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell had been put in command of the Northumbrian Division of
For the next two years he led a hectic double life. He spent much of his time in the
north of England, transforming the raw recruits of his Northumbrian Division into an
effective fighting force. Meanwhile, he kept in constant touch with Scout headquarters in
London and wrote a regular weekly column for The Scout magazine. Whenever possible, he met
with youth leaders who had expressed an interest in his program, and he visited some of
the thousands of Scout patrols and troops that were being formed all over the British
Neither B-P nor anyone else could have foreseen the enthusiasm with which boys took up
scouting. The idea caught on so quickly that at first it was difficult to keep track of
the movement I s growth. By the end of 1908, some sixty thousand boys had registered as
Scouts and were invading Britain’s parks and countryside, broomstick staffs in one hand,
dog-eared copies of B-P’s handbook in the other. By the summer of 1909, there were more
than 100,000 registered Boy Scouts in Great Britain and the little headquarters office in
London was being overwhelmed with letters asking advice and assistance.
What was it that made this new idea so appealing to so many boys? For one thing,
Baden-Powell’s name alone was enough to catch the attention of boys all over Britain, for
he was still greatly admired as a national hero. But if many youngsters read Scouting
for Boys just because of B-P’s reputation, it was his scouting program that captured
their enthusiastic participation.
At the time, there was no such thing as a widespread camping movement for boys. Those
few boys who camped in the open, as B-P and his brothers had done, did so on their own.
Now B-P was offering all boys an opportunity to lead the self-sufficient lives of
explorers, frontiersmen and pioneers. Follow me, he said, and we’ll pitch our tents under
the open sky. We’ll light fires, cook our own grub, send signals, and read the meaning of
tracks and signs. We’ll find our way by the sun and stars and blaze trails through the
Scouting answered a boy’s craving for fun and adventure. But its appeal ran deeper than
that, for it also spoke directly to a boy’s self-respect. Instead of imposing a lot of
rules, scouting put a boy on his honor and trusted him to do his best. It encouraged him
to follow his own special interests and discover his own unique abilities. It asked him to
use his skills and knowledge to help others. And it challenged him to take on a man’s
Scouting took boys seriously, and that was the real secret of its enormous appeal.