From the March-April 1998 issue ...
Text by Robert Peterson
Begun as a newsletter to convey information from the national office to volunteer leaders, the BSA's official magazine has grown into a widely respected publication with a circulation of about one million readers.
This magazine was born 85 years ago, on April 15, 1913. The Boy Scouts of America was barely three years old and growing like Topsy.
Thousands of inquiries from new and prospective Scout leaders flooded BSA national headquarters in New York City. More than 10,000 letters a month inundated the 56 employees, who were also busy sending out twice that number of communications.
To stem the tide of mail, the National Council decided to start a semimonthly "bulletin" called Scouting, in a format that today we would term a newsletter.
For the first couple of years, issues of Scouting were limited to either four or eight pages, with no separate cover.
'Boy problems' and more
In its first issue, the new publication stated that it intended to cover the actions of the National Council, "boy problems," and ways to foster fellowship among Scouts and Scouters.
The mission statement read, "We want every Scout Master, as well as every boy, to feel that he is part of a tremendous institution that is making for greater love for the outdoors, a greater pride in muscular prowess and a keener stimulus toward strength and nobility of character."
On the editorial page, the editors vowed, "The keynote of this publication will be service."
The pioneer Scoutmasters needed all the help they could get. Except for Army veterans of the Spanish-American War, few American men had ever hiked or camped or practiced any outdoor skills. In working with their Scouts, most looked to two books for guidance: the first Boy Scout handbook, titled the Handbook for Boys, and the brand-new Handbook for Scout Masters.
Scouting magazine quickly became another resource for unit leaders. In its third issue, for example, Scouting ran an article titled "Preparing for a Scout Camp." Among other things, the article told how to serve up four hearty meals for an overnight camp-out at an average cost per boy of nine cents a meal.
Scores of such advice pieces appeared during Scouting magazine's first few years. There were also regular reports on Good Turns--collections of food and clothing for flood victims along the Ohio River, fighting brush fires, cleaning churchyards, and gathering supplies and helping to feed 6,000 people after fire destroyed a third of the buildings in Salem, Mass.
There were short items about missing boys and program suggestions from Scoutmasters. The itineraries of national field commissioners, who were touring the country to organize local councils and troops, were given, so that men could confer with them when they passed through town.
Stuff from the front
The Front Line Stuff column, one of the magazine's most popular features through the years, was born in 1917.
Its initial name was "Typical Troop Problem." Evidently the questions posed were created by the editors rather than readers, as they are today, but many of them sound familiar. One of the first asked how a troop could hold on to its older Scouts. And every year or two since then, Front Line Stuff has asked readers to respond to that same question.
Signs of the times
Not surprisingly, Scouting magazine's pages have always reflected the times. When that older-Scout question was first posed, U.S. soldiers were in the trenches in France as World War I engulfed Europe. Every issue of the magazine urged support for the Liberty Loan drives that helped to finance the war effort, asked troops to plant gardens to augment food supplies, or gave advice on other BSA efforts in service to the nation.
As the war was winding down in late 1918, an influenza pandemic raged worldwide. Twenty million people died, including more than a half million in the United States. Scouting magazine told how to prevent the spread of the flu and how to care for the sick.
Influenza was not the only deadly disease in that era before antibiotics were developed. Even as flu was ravaging the nation, Scouting had a page of advice on why and how to kill the common housefly, a carrier of typhoid fever and other diseases. It also reported that the Philadelphia Scout council was offering a "fresh air badge" to alert Scouts to the dangers of tuberculosis.
Covers make the magazine
In 1920, when Scouting was seven years old, it went from semimonthly to monthly publication. During the decade of the 1920s, it began to look more like a magazine and less like a newsletter. Covers appeared for the first time, mostly with black-and-white photographs.
For three years during the 1920s, Scoutmasters did not have to depend solely on Scouting magazine for up-to-date information about the Scouting movement and ideas for programs. Columbia University offered a monthly publication for Scouters who took its correspondence course in Scout leadership. (At the time several universities had advanced training for Scouters.) Columbia's Scoutmastership Notes started in early 1924 and merged with Scouting magazine in December 1926.
During the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Scouting magazine looked much like other national magazines of the time. On the cover, the centerpiece was usually a black-and-white photo accented with a bright red Scouting nameplate and a red border. Inside, most of the 34 pages had black-and-white photos or artwork.
The contents regularly included four pages of "Troop Program Suggestions," the equivalent of today's program features from Woods Wisdom.
Typical articles dealt with issues such as "Why Do They Drop Out?" "Let Your Leaders Lead," "Financing the Troop," and "How Hard Shall We Make the Requirements?"
Most issues included a safety column by Fred C. Mills, the longtime director of the BSA's Health and Safety Service.
Many of the how-to articles and inspirational messages, however, were still being written by Scoutmasters and other BSA volunteers.
Advertising became more evident. Every issue had ads for outboard motors; canoes; hiking shoes; plastic wood for modeling; sleeping bags; a correspondence school for would-be engineers, architects, and chemists; baseball bats; and fire extinguishers for camp. The inside back cover was reserved for an ad from the BSA Supply Service, while the back cover almost always advertised either Baby Ruth candy bars or Mercurochrome first-aid disinfectant.
World War II and beyond
As it had in World War I, Scouting magazine gave ample coverage to the BSA's services during World War II.
Undoubtedly one of the best-read articles in the magazine's history appeared in February 1942, two months after a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii had plunged the United States into the war. A sketchy and heavily censored report told how heroic Hawaiian Scouts had rescued victims of the bombing, fought fires, served as guards and messengers for the authorities, and helped evacuate citizens from bombed-out areas.
On the mainland, wartime service by Scouts and Explorers was more prosaic but also important. Scouts planted Victory Gardens; collected massive amounts of aluminum, wastepaper, rubber, and scrap metal for recycling; and undertook a host of other services.
In the postwar years, while baby boomer boys were taking BSA membership to new heights, Scouting magazine cut back to 10 24-page issues per year.
The artwork was becoming more sophisticated. Three- and four-color covers were common. Except for Front Line Stuff and the Worth Retelling column, there was less reliance on the contributions of volunteer Scouters. Most articles were written by staff members and professional Scouters.
Color! Color! Color!
Color photography and color printing made great advances after the war. By the early 1970s about half of the magazine's articles were illustrated with four-color photos, albeit not of today's quality.
From November 1953 until the mid-1960s, program outlines and ideas for packs, troops, and posts were not included in the magazine. Instead, they were sent to leaders in separate publications called Program Quarterlies. After that, the program outlines were again bound into the magazine and later could also be purchased in annual booklets called Program Helps.
During the past 20 years, Scouting magazine has become much more colorful, thanks to advances in photography, printing, and the use of the computer in editing. Stories are shorter and punchier, with many aimed at families as well as Scout leaders.
But the magazine's mission remains the same: to help volunteer leaders do a better job in their role as Scouters.
Scouting magazine contributing editor Robert Peterson is the author of The Boy Scouts: An American Adventure.
Copyright © 1998 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.