You may have heard a little about the history of the Boy Scouts. You know, the part where the American man goes to England where a Boy Scout helps him find his destination and refuses to take money for it. But most of us don't really know how the Scouting movement actually began.
The Scouting movement's founder, Lieutenant General Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, was born in London on February 22, 1857.
During his youth, he attended boarding school at Charterhouse as a scholarship student. It has been said that Lord Baden-Powell got his introduction to Scouting skills in the off-limits woods close to the school where he was stalking and cooking game while avoiding his teachers.
In 1876, Baden-Powell joined the military as a lieutenant and was stationed in India. His strengths were in scouting, map-making and reconnaissance. Some of this methods were unusual for the time. He had small groups of soldiers, called patrols, working together under one leader. The members of the patrols who did well were recognized with a badge.
Because of his expertise, Baden-Powell was asked to give lectures to other soldiers about the skills needed to become good scouts. His training helped the soldiers learn how to think independently, use their initiative, and survive in the wilderness.
Around 1899, he wrote Aids to Scouting which summarized his lectures about military scouting.
Aids to Scouting was written in easy to understand language, and it taught important skills such as maneuvering through different countries using maps and compasses, observing your surroundings by using all of your senses, and concealing yourself from the enemy. Baden-Powell wrote ways to "practice in peace time" for each of the techniques.
The appendices of Aids to Scouting gave more practical exercises and details for scouting competitions.
While Baden-Powell continued his military career in Africa, his book was being widely read throughout England. Youth leaders and teachers were using the book to teach boys outdoor skills. Scores of boys were playing "scout" with Aids to Scouting as their manual.
Baden-Powell became involved in the Boys' Brigade, a Christian youth organization for boys. He worked to promote scouting and other outdoor activities for boys in that group and other boys' organizations. Baden-Powell decided to rewrite Aids to Scouting for use by younger readers.
To test his ideas, he took a group of about twenty boys on a camping event where they participated in camping, lifesaving, woodcraft, observation, chivalry and patriotism activities. This event is considered by most to be the beginning of the worldwide Scout movement.
Scouting for Boys was published in 1908 and was an immediate success. Boys formed their own Scout patrols and began implementing the concepts in the book. People from around the world wrote to Baden-Powell requesting information about how to start their own Scout troops. In fact, he received so many requests that he had to open an office just for the requests.
The first rally for all Scouts was held in 1909 at London's Crystal Palace. Over 11,000 boys attended this precursor to the World Scout Jamborees. Many girls attended and called themselves "Girl Scouts." They approached Baden-Powell and asked him to allow girls to be Scouts. Prior to this, he didn't realize how many girls were interested. A year later under the direction of his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, the Girl Guides was formed.
In 1910, Baden-Powell decided to retire from the military so that he could focus on the Scouting movement. He traveled extensively around the world to encourage the growth of both Boy Scouting and Girl Guiding.
The attendees of the first World Scout Jamboree in 1920 declared Baden-Powell to be the Chief Scout of the World. This was one of the many awards and honors that he received for his work with the Scouting movement.
Baden-Powell passed away in 1941 when he was 83 years old. In a final letter to the Scouts, Lord Baden-Powell urges boys and girls to "...try and leave this world a little better than you found it...," a message that is as appropriate today as it was during his lifetime.