Boy Scouts, organization, originally for boys from 11 to 14 or 15 years of age, that aimed to develop in them good citizenship, chivalrous behavior, and skill in various outdoor activities. The Boy Scout movement was founded in Great Britain in 1908 by a cavalry officer, Lieutenant General Robert S.S. (later Lord) Baden-Powell, who had written a book called Scouting for Boys (1908) but who was better known as the defender of the town of Mafeking in the South African (or Boer) War. Baden-Powell’s book described many games and contests that he had used to train cavalry troops in scouting, and it became popular reading among the boys of Great Britain. Prior to the book’s publication, Baden-Powell held an experimental camp on Brownsea Island off the coast of southern England in which he put into practice his ideas on the training of boys.
Baden-Powell’s idea was that boys should organize themselves into small natural subgroups of six or seven under a boy leader—the patrol and patrol leader. Their training would consist of such things as tracking and reconnaissance, mapping, signaling, knotting, first aid, and all the skills that arise from camping and similar outdoor activities. To become a scout, a boy would promise to be loyal to his country, help other people, and in general obey the scout law, itself a simple code of chivalrous behavior easily understood by the boy.
That basic pattern of scouting aims and emphases has continued. In every country where scouting exists, it involves a scout oath or promise; a scout law, with such small variations as national traditions and culture demand; an emphasis on the delights of the outdoor life and the pursuit of such outdoor activities as camping, swimming, sailing, climbing, canoeing, and exploring caves; a progressive training rewarded by the granting of certain badges; and the encouragement of a daily good deed. In every country, too, the highest proficiency is marked by the award of a special badge (e.g., the Eagle Scout Badge in the United States and the Queen’s Scout Badge in Canada and Great Britain). The symbols of the scouts include the handshake with the left hand, the fleur-de-lis badge, and the motto “Be prepared.”
Baden-Powell had intended his ideas to be used by existing youth organizations in Britain, but it was soon obvious that a new movement had come into being, and the Boy Scouts quickly spread to other countries. By 1910 there were Boy Scout troops in Sweden, Mexico, Argentina, and the United States, as well as such Commonwealth countries as Canada, Australia, and South Africa. By the early 21st century there were national Boy Scout organizations in nearly 170 countries. The World Organization of the Scout Movement, established in 1920 and now based in Geneva, promotes scouting worldwide. It maintains regional offices in Belgium, Egypt, the Philippines, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Chile, and Ukraine.
WRITTEN BY: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica