Today marks the Boy Scouts of America’s 104th birthday. On Feb. 8, 1910, William Dickson Boyce, a Chicago newspaper publisher, formally incorporated the BSA in Washington, D.C.
Boyce had, of course, been inspired to bring Scouting to the United States thanks to a chance encounter with an unknown Scout in London the previous year. Despite the legends we’ve all heard, Boyce didn’t get lost in the famous London fog, he (probably) didn’t meet Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell that day, and he didn’t take a trunk full of Scouting material along on his African safari that fall.
Here’s how he described his encounter in a 1928 letter:
I was in doubt whether to try to cross the street when a boy about ten or twelve years old, I think he had a lantern or a light of some kind in his hand, asked me if I wished to cross the street. I told him I did, and he piloted me to the other side. I then offered to tip him and he refused it on the basis that he was doing a good turn as a Boy Scout. I was interested and asked him about his organization.
Beyond getting the organization set up, Boyce didn’t play much of a role in the BSA. He did, however, contribute $1,000 a month for administrative expenses (worth about $25,000 today) with one stipulation: Scouting could not discriminate by race or creed. (That stipulation is interesting since Boyce held the typical racial views of his time. Perhaps Scouting appealed to the better angels of his nature.)
Boyce went on to found the Lone Scouts of America, which merged with the BSA in 1924. Two years later, he received one of the first Silver Buffalo awards, along with Baden-Powell and the Unknown Scout.
For his part in creating the BSA, we can say, “Thank you, Mr. Boyce.”
Note: You can learn much more about Boyce in Janice Petterchak’s 2003 book Lone Scout: W. D. Boyce and American Boy Scouting–if you can find a copy. Amazon currently has 11 copies starting at $65!
by Janice A. Petterchak