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Depression era scouting?

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A question for those more familiar with scouting history:


What did the BSA do to survive the Depression? Did they alter their mission or program? How were membership numbers affected?


Are there any lessons to be learned for today's rough economic times?




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Funny you should ask. I just finished looking at rosters from our troop from 1926 to 1944. Seems as though there were more boys in the troop then than there is now. Of course that was before rec. ball, after school activities and such. I think the boys were just happy to get away from the farm for a few hours. I don't know what BSA did to deal with the tough times but I know some of the rosters indicate that some boys didn't have uniforms. I also have my late uncles Cub Scout uniform from 1939 - 1940. It has no patches on it other than the CUBS BSA strip and a rank patch. I asked my mother why she thought there were no unit numbers or council patch on it. She said her parents probably couldn't afford them! So I guess everyone made due with what they had and did what they could afford to do. Local camping trips, homemade gear etc. If you look at the old handbooks it didn't take much in those days to outfit yourself.

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yep making your own gear. I had a scout who bought the wrong bag for camping, a waterproof dry packsack, that he needed a framed pack. Told him to look at 2nd ed. Fieldbook for directions to make his own.

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They cut costs in ways we can't imagine. Some scout executives took no pay, half pay or some other deal and subsisted on contributions or from another job. Some councils were run without professionals at all. A lot of council offices were in donated space because, like today, there were lots of vacant offices.


The cost of Scouting in those days, even in adjusted dollars, was much less than today. Their camps were built by volunteers from lumber cut on site and would not pass building codes of today.


A scout uniform from those days would last forever. I have two of them from 1935. You could put 'em on and wear them for years even now. So, hand-me-downs were much easier to come by.

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The Great Depression started 1929 and lasted until mid 1930's or until the ramp-up for WW2


During this time, the BSA expanded the program and membership. Scouts were highly visible doing community service - clothes collecting, scrap drives (called recycling today). Health and Safety programs were developed and received national recognitions. Catholic Churches start chartering scout units.

1930: Cub Scout started, opening scouting to younger boys

1932: Schiff Scout Reservation at Mendham, N.J. opened.

National Council adopted 10 year growth plan.

1938: Waite Phillips donates Philmont


Membership went up:

1929: 833,897

1930: 847,051

1932: 878,461

1933: 904,240

1935: 25th Anniversary. Membership over a million 1,027,833


online reference from Post 369:



Lessons for success, in my opinion:

1. Scouting was in sync with current American values and needs.

2. Keep the bar high, stick to BP basics.

3. Scouts were highly visible in the community helping others. You actually saw firsthand, scouts in uniform around town performing community service.

4. On the radio and in other public speeches, the President of the United States asked Scouts for their help, while our own BSA president was more in the background.

5. Scout run, scout-centric program. Far, far fewer adults involved. More adventure.

6. Thrifty. As mentioned, make your own gear and re-use uniforms. Plan. Camp locally.


I don't want to give the impression that the program was perfect back then. It was mostly a white, upper middle-class youth group. Also, I would suggest there may have been more competition to scouting back then than now, namely JOBS. My dad would make the rounds on his bike after school to see who needed help sweeping, loading, gopher,...odd jobs. More time and energy was expended in the search than the actual work; he had no time left for scouting. At age 16, he tried to join another "youth group" - the U.S. Navy :) In time, he was allowed to enlist.



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The great depression was actually two recessions. The first one started in 1929 and by 1936 the markets were back up to where they and been before the crash (though unemployment while improved was still an issue). There was a second recession in 1937 that lasted until war production ramped up in 1940.


My dad was supervising the drafting room for an Architecture/Engineering firm in Indianapolis when the 1937 crash hit. He was about 20 with some college and was making 25 cents an hour. Suddenly there was an influx of licensed architects that would have gladly taken his job for 25 cents a day. He always had tremendous respect for the owner of the firm who could have fired him and hired 8 licensed architects for the same cost, but didn't. In 1940 dad got the letter informing him that a committee of his friends and neighbors had selected him for military service.


BTW: He was a scout (as were his two brothers) and a newsboy but I don't ever remember discussing his scouting experience. His Army service file says he was a Life scout.


Hope our depression is shorter.


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There may have been more scouts than those counted during those years. I know of a WB patrol member of mine that scouted during the depression. 8 scouts, no SM. They survived many years until he aged out and became the SM. If the program really is boy-led?? ...these boys didn't seem to have a problem not having a SM.





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  • 11 months later...

Anyone know of an Eagle Scout from the 1920's that is still around and can communicate? He can be living anywhere in the world. Just so it is a place that in the worst case scenario has at least mail service. Phone service would be nice.


It doesn't have to be from 1920 exactly, I know from 1920 this would make him 105 or so years old. 1929 is still in the 1920's and would make the man around 95. There are a couple of men in our area that are in this age range, but they are not Eagle Scouts.


My son is looking for one for his Eagle project fundraiser. He doesn't have to meet him in person, it would be an added bonus if he can.


I realize there are privacey concerns. This are more to protect the youth. If you know of someone let me know privately. I'll give my sons contact information to you to pass along so that the 1920's Eagle Scout can decide whether or not he would like to talk to my son or not.






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