Boy Scout Uniforms: Influences

Figure 1.--The original scouting uniforms were all similar to the military-style adopted by Baden Powell when he founded English Scouting. National Scout uniforms have since evolved into colorful, diverse outfits reflecting the character and traditions of each country's Scouts.

Lord Baden Powell is generally credited with founding the couting movement. There were, however, important American and Scottish influences on the new Scouting movement. Powell in fact did ot initially plan to lauch a new movement. He planned to incorprating his ideas on Scouting to the existing Boys' Brigade and similar youth organizations. In addition, two Americans, Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard, had founded organizations which emphasized Scouting and outdoor activies. Seaton's Woodcraft Indians and Beard's Sons of Daniel Boone preceeded the Boys Scouts. All of these groups had a major impact on the new Scouting movement.

Court litigation in the United States provides many insights on the influenes that helped in formulate the new Boy Scout movement. The litigation was brought by Thompson Seton, founder of the Woodcraft Indians. He was engaged in a disastrous quarrel with the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 1915. Because Seton knew that the BSA's legitimacy depended upon their connection with Baden-Powell, and his unassailable status as founder, Seton decided to tell the American press that his ideas had been stolen by Baden-Powell in order to torpedo the BSA's attempt to secure an American Scouting monopoly. A Powell biographer writes, "Baden-Powell therefore decided to leave nothing to chance in his testimony. Too much was at stake for the truth to be told. If the BSA lost their case, then there would be repercussions everywhere and he might ultimately lose control over the name and uniform even in Britain." [Tim Jeal, The Boy Man--The Life of Lord Baden-Powell, page 581 Appendix II.]

The following testimony of Baden-Powell as to what he had mind in organizing the English Boy Scouts Association. The following quotations are taken from the records of the Supreme Court of New York State (Interrogatories to be administered to Sir Robert S. S. Baden-Powell, of London, England, a witness to be examined under the commission to be issued pursuant to order entered herein on 14th day of December, 1917 in connection with the suit in which he as "witness, personally appeared before me on the 24th day of May, 1918, at 10:30 o'clock in the afternoon, at the American Consulate General, 18, Cavendish Square, London, West, in the city and county of London, England, and after being sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, did depose to the matters contained in the foregoing deposition, and did, in my presence, subscribe the same and endorse the exhibits annexed hereto."

Question 3

Baden Powell was asked. "Kindly give a statement in full as to the origin of the Boy Scout Movement, making the statement as full, complete, and detailed as you can."

Boehr War Experience

In 1893-1894, when serving with my regiment, the 13th Hussars, I realized that the ordinary peace training of soldiers for service in the field was not sufficiently practicable, and I therefore carried out classes of training in my squadron for the men individually in Scouting and Camping. In 1897-1898, having been transferred to command the Fifth Dragoon Guards, I carried on similar training, but on improved lines, with a view to developing character, as well as field efficiency, since this was largely lacking in lads coming on to the Army from the ordinary school. My lectures and practices were collated and published in a small book, Aids to Scouting. During the South African War, 1899-1900, Major Lord Edward Cecil, my Chief Staff Officer, organized the boys of Mafeking as a corps for general utility on Scout lines rather than those of Cadets and the experiment was an entire success. The experience taught one that if their training was made to appeal to them, boys would learn rapidly and also that boys were capable of taking responsibilities to a far greater degree than was ordinarily believed if only they were trusted.

South African Constabulary

In 1901 I raised the South African Constabulary on lines of my own, the principles of which were practically those of the Scout training applicable to men. The troop was made a small unit, in order that the Commander should be able to deal with each individual on personal knowledge of him; the system of patrols was initiated, of six men under a leader. Responsibility was thus given to the junior non-commissioned officers, and emulation between the patrols produced a good spirit to the higher standard of efficiency all around. The human side was appealed to, and the men were trusted on their honor to a very large degree in carrying out their duties.

Their uniform for field work was the cowboy hat, shirt, green tie, and shorts. Badges were awarded for proficiency in different lines of work. On my return to England in 1903 I found that, among others, Miss Mason, head of a training school for teachers, had adopted "Aids for Scouting" as a textbook for their instruction in observation and education as a step to character training.

Scouting for Boys

In 1904 I schemed some ideas for Scouting as a training for boys. In 1905, I had a conversation with Sir William Smith., the founder of the Boys' Brigade, as to adapting the training for boys, and I offered to write a book for them on the lines of Aids to Scouting as a means for enthusing the boys and giving the wider scope and greater variety to their training for citizenhood.

Brownsea Island

In 1907 I held a trial camp for Scout training, Brownsea Island, at which I had boys of other schools to experiment on, and its results exceeded my exceeded my expectations and prompted me to go on with the idea. The training was based on that which I had employed with soldiers and with the constabulary, with some adaptation to make it suitable for boys, following the principles adopted by the Zulus and other African tribes, which reflected some of the ideas of Epictetus, and the methods of the Spartans, ancient British and Irish for training their boys.


I also looked into the Bushido of the Japanese as well as those of today put into practice by Sir William Smith [founder of the Boys' Brigade], Seton Thompson [founder of Woodcraft Indians], Dan Beard [founder of Sons of Daniel Boone], and Jahn, more especially because he put into practice in modern times the idea of Livy of voluntary associations of boys for improving their physique and developing their patriotism.

In 1908 I brought out the Handbook of the training entitled Scouting for Boys" in six fortnightly parts. A number of troops were started in different parts of the United Kingdom before the series was half completed. Although additional attraction for their boys by the Boys Brigade and Church Lad Brigade, it became evident that a separate movement was required to deal with a number of boys who were taking it up unconnected with these bodies.

Separate Movement

In 1910 the Boy Scout Movement had grown to such dimensions, numbering 123,980, that I felt it incumbent upon me to leave the Army in order to take the Movement in hand.

Questiion 4

State the conditions and facts which led to the development of the Scouting idea, giving the sources of the suggestions as to the name, program, form of organization, activities and the like.

Appel to boys

To the fourth interrogatory he saith: With a view to making the subject appeal to boys and to meet their spirit in adventure, I held up for their ideal the doings of back-woodsmen and knights, adventurers, and explorers as the heroes for them to follow. These I grouped generally under the title of "Scouts."

In their camp life, boat work, pioneering, and nature study one could find all the attractions for a boy which at the same time would be the medium of instruction. I worked it out partly from my own experience and partly from the general feeling of what was lacking in the training of the average school boy. The deficiency lay chiefly in the direction of character and general intelligence; skill of handicraft; services for others and for the state; physical development and health knowledge. The activities and practices of Scouting were, therefore, framed as far as possible to develop these attributes.


Honor was made the high ideal for the boys; the Scout Law, on which the movement was hinged, was taken from the code of the knights.


Was decentralized as much as possible, since I had seen how greatly other movements were hampered by their centralization.


The troop was purposely kept small in numbers in order that the Scoutmaster should have personal knowledge of each of his boys, this being the only possible way for developing the character of the individual. The patrol system was adopted from that of the Constabulary, and for the same reason. An extensive system of badges was instituted as in the Army and the Constabulary for excellence in different branches of work.


The aim of the movement was to make good citizens, and for this reason it was judged unnecessary to introduce military drill.

Question 7

What was your purpose in forming the Boy Scouts organization? Please state as fully as you can the ideals you had in mind, the defects in existing boys, work which were planned to be remedied and any other matters which will throw light on your purpose.

My purpose in forming the Scout organization was to counteract, if possible, the deterioration, moral and physical, which shortened our rising generation, and to train the boys to be more efficient and characterful citizens. The defect in existing boys' organizations was plain that they were not sufficiently attractive from the boys' point of view, nor wide enough in their scope of their training, nor sufficiently varied, to meet the changeable nature of the boy (e. g., the Boys' Brigade made the boy's ideas partially by a semi-military organization with military drill, but the training underlying this was mainly that of the Bible Class. Boys' Clubs were generally intended to give better environments outside of the class and factory walls, but failed to supply activities sufficient to hold the boys).


Powell biographer Tim Jeal claims that there were various intentional inaccuracies in the Powell testimony which were intentionally designed to minimize Seaton's influence in the creation of the Boy Scouts.

On 24 May 1918, Baden-Powell swore an affidavit ("Deposition as to the Origins of Scout Movement") at the American Consulate General in Cavendish Square, London, to be used by the Boy Scouts of America in their case against the United States Boy Scouts in the Supreme Court of New York County. The Former body expected to win their case if they could establish that Baden-Powell was the Movement's undoubted founder and had conferred upon them the exclusive right to use the name, uniform, badges and other paraphernalia of his movement in America.
Lord Edward Cecil had never trained the existing Mafeking Cadet Corps on "scout lines". In 1927, BP stated in a private letter dictated to his secretary Mrs. Wade and signed by her on his behalf: "The boy messengers were not Boy Scouts... but more in the nature of cadets...

In his eagerness to claim that scout training had been applied to boys before Seton had invented his Woodcraft Indians in 1902, Baden-Powell had given Cecil a niche in Scouting history which his lordship had never earned (and, since he had recently died, was not now going to disclaim).

Similarly Baden-Powell, in order to deny his debt to Seton over the Scout badges, swore in the affidavit that his proficiency badges had been inspired by those devised for the S.A.C.

A decade later he would admit that Seton's badges had furnished most of his originals. ("How the Scouts' Badges Originated" by R. Baden-Powell, TC 21 SAA.)

Although Baden-Powell did not discover until 1906 that Miss Charlotte Mason had made the activities described in Aids to Scouting part of the curriculum at her teacher training college, he claimed in his affidavit to have learned this in 1903. (Miss Mason had not come across the book until 1905.) This not only placed his discovery of Scouting's educational significance long before his first meeting with Seton, but also stole some of Sir William Smith's thunder for having suggested that he adapt Aids to Scouting for use by boys. He further reduced William Smith's importance by placing his suggestion in 1905 rather than 1904. [Tim Jeal, The Boy Man--The Life of Lord Baden-Powell.]

BSA Position

The BSA has taken different positions on the influence of Baden-Powell. The BSA in the above cour hearings wanted to maximize Baden-Powell's influence. The official BSA website page "Founders of Scouting and the BSA" proclaims, that "Robert S. S. Baden-Powell gathering ideas from Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, and others, he rewrote the manual as a nonmilitary nature skill book and called it Scouting for Boys." At other times they have wanted to minimize Powell's role. The official spokesman of the Boy Scouts of America on August 1999 sought to minimize Baden-Powell's relationship to the BSA in responding to an article about Baden-Powell possibly being gay. [Elizabeth Abbott, Provident Journal, August 22, 1999: Experts on Baden-Powell, founder of scouting, suggest he was homosexual Shields said the Boys Scouts of America was founded 2 years after Baden-Powell launched the Scouts in Great Britain and is a separate organization. ``Baden-Powell was never a member of Boy Scouts of America,'' Shields said.

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Chronology Pages:
[Return to the Main chronologies page]
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s] [The 2000s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web Site:
[Introduction] [Bibliographies] [Chronologies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Garments] [Organizations]
[Boys' Uniform Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web organizatiion pages:
[Return to the Main Scout page]
[Boys' Brigade] [Camp Fire] [Hitler Youth] [National] [Pioneers] [Royal Rangers]

Created: June 24, 2000
Last updated: June 24, 2000