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This Day in History: The origins of the Boy Scouts of America

On this day in 1912, Arthur Rose Eldred is notified that he will be the Boy Scouts of America’s first Eagle Scout.

The Boy Scouts might never have existed in America, but for the fact that a Chicago publisher got lost in a London fog in 1909.

William D. Boyce was looking for a particular address in London when he got caught in a dense fog. He stopped a young man, asking for directions. That boy did more than just give directions. He personally led Boyce to his destination. When Boyce tried to offer him a tip, the boy refused. He was a Scout, he noted, and he believed in doing Good Turns for others.

Boyce had to learn more.

He obtained an introduction to the founder of scouting in Britain. Robert Baden-Powell was a former military man and the author of a manual intended for military use. One day, he discovered that boys in England were interested in his manual.

Let’s just say that these English boys weren’t using his military tricks in the most productive ways.

Baden-Powell decided to capitalize on the boys’ interest, but to redirect their efforts toward more useful ventures. He wrote a second manual, Scouting for Boys, and he tested his ideas with a group of 22 boys at a two-week camp.

The Boy Scouts were born! Well, at least they were in England. The idea would come to America about a year later when the so-called “Unknown Scout” offered his assistance to Boyce on that foggy London day.

Boyce returned home, with the tenets of scouting ringing in his ears. He joined with other like-minded Americans to form a new scouting organization in America, too. The Boy Scouts of America received its congressional charter on February 8, 1910.

No one ever discovered the identity of the Unknown Scout, but a monument was later erected in his honor in London. The statue bears an inscription:

To the Unknown Scout whose Faithfulness in the Performance of the Daily Good Turn brought the Scout Movement to the United States of America.

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