The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with 2.7 million youth members and over 1 million adult volunteers. Since its founding in 1910 as part of the international Scout Movement, more than 110 million Americans have been members of the BSA.
The BSA goal is to train youth in responsible citizenship, character development, and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities, educational programs, and, at older age levels, career-oriented programs in partnership with community organizations. For younger members, the Scout method is part of the program to inculcate typical Scouting values such as trustworthiness, good citizenship, and outdoors skills, through a variety of activities such as camping, aquatics, and hiking.
The BSA is a constituent member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. The traditional Scouting divisions are Cub Scouting for boys ages 7 to 10½ years, Boy Scouting for boys ages 10 1/2 to 18 and Venturing for young men and women ages 14 (or 13 and have completed the 8th grade) through 21. Learning for Life is a non-traditional subsidiary that provides in-school and career education. The BSA operates traditional Scouting locally through units sponsored and operated by churches, clubs, civic associations, educational organizations and the like. Units are led entirely by volunteers who are supported by local councils using both paid professionals and volunteers.
The influence of Scouting on American society is frequently cited by both its advocates and critics. Critics have called the BSA's membership obligations unfair, resulting in litigation in various state and federal courts. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that Boy Scouts, and all private organizations, have the constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment of freedom of association to set membership standards.
The progressive movement in the United States was at its height during the early 20th century. With the migration of families from farms to cities, there were concerns among some people that young men were no longer learning patriotism and individualism. The YMCA was an early promoter of reforms for young men with a focus on social welfare and programs of mental, physical, social and religious development.
BSA had two notable predecessors in the United States: the Woodcraft Indians started by Ernest Thompson Seton in 1902 and the Sons of Daniel Boone founded by Daniel Carter Beard in 1905 in Cincinnati, Ohio.In 1907, British General Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scouting movement in England using elements of Seton's works among other influences. Several small local Scouting programs for boys started independently in the U.S., soon after, many of these programs merged with the BSA.
In 1909, Chicago publisher W. D. Boyce was visiting London, where he encountered a boy who came to be known as the Unknown Scout. Boyce was lost on a foggy street when an unknown Scout came to his aid, guiding him to his destination. The boy then refused Boyce's tip, explaining that he was a Boy Scout and was merely doing his daily good turn. Soon thereafter, Boyce met with General Baden-Powell, who was Chief Scout at the time. Upon after his return to the U.S., Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. Edgar M. Robinson and Lee F. Hanmer became interested in the nascent BSA movement and convinced Boyce to turn the program over to the YMCA for development in April 1910. Robinson enlisted Seton, Beard, Charles Eastman and other prominent leaders in the early youth movements. In January 1911, Robinson turned the movement over to James E. West who became the first Chief Scout Executive and Scouting began to expand in the U.S.
The BSA's stated purpose at its incorporation in 1910 was "to teach [boys] patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values." Later, in 1937, Deputy Chief Scout Executive George J. Fisher expressed the BSA's mission; "Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows." The current mission statement of the BSA is "to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the first partner to sponsor Scouting in the United States, adopting the program in 1913 as part of its Mutual Improvement Association program for young men.