Every once in a while an idea catches the imagination of the world, and 100 years ago Robert Baden-Powell started an international youth movement who’s ranks would eventually grow into the millions when he wrote Scouting for Boys. The book was originally released as a fortnightly edition, with one of six issues being released every two weeks for three month’s, and later that year (May 1) the book was released in its entirety as a complete book.
The story begins in 1899 when Robert Baden-Powell wrote a small military instruction manual entitled Aids to Scouting. The book was written for men who were training to become scouts in the military. At this time British newspapers were covered the ongoing struggle of the Second Boer-War and the heroic defense of Mafeking. The defense commander of Mafeking was Robert Baden-Powell and though the struggle he became a media sensation in Brittan. As the coverage continued the public wanted to read about this man who was fast becoming a national hero and sales of his military manual began to climb. All of this attention was not lost on the publishers who included a note on the front pages of the book indicating that the manuscript had been smuggled out of Mafeking though enemy lines, which only added to the fervor.
When Baden-Powell finished his tour and returned to England he was intrigued to learn that not only soldiers, but young boys, were engaging in the training games and exercises that he had outlined in his book. He began toying with the idea of re-writing the book to be more focused towards youth, specifically young boys. He started looking at the organization schemes and talking to the developers of other youth organizations around the world and how he could mesh them with his methods that he used in training boys as messengers and runners at Mafeking.
In 1906 he put this groundwork to the test by gathering 21 boys of mixed social backgrounds and holding a week-long camp on Brownsea Island. He tested his Patrol organization method and some of the key games and teaching techniques that would eventually be the basis of scouting. In the end the camp was a complete success and Baden-Powell set to work on his new book.
Which brings us back the release of Scouting for Boys. Baden-Powell’s original intention was for existing youth organizations to use his book as an additional resource in their programs, however due to his popularity (by this time Baden-Powell was a national celebrity in Brittan for his efforts at Mafeking) and the all round cleverness of his book and the games within it, groups of boys began forming their own independent patrols and scouting movement spread like wild fire across the British Empire. Canada became the first overseas dominion with a sanctioned Boy Scout program, followed quickly by Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile (the first country outside the British Empire to have a recognized program). By 1910, Argentina, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Malaya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States all had Boy Scouts.
Early editions of Scouting for Boys can be difficult to find but they are out there. “Many of the early manuals are well thumbed and were obviously taken out to camps and packed around it is possible to find fine copies, even of the original fortnightly editions” explains Doug Bearce of Scouting Collectables. “While prices tend to fluctuate from year to year a copy of any one of the original fortnightly edition issues can easily reach four figures.” As the movement grew into different countries, each Scouting chapter began to produce its own hand-books, therefore there are hundreds and hundreds of editions the scouting handbook. For example, the first US edition was published in 1910 but in this single year there were nine different US editions printed. This says nothing of the Canadian, Australian, Indian, and other foreign editions. “Many of the foreign editions had differing material or advertisements based on geography and language” says Bearce. “Canada for instance had a smaller scouting population and had a limited budget so they would usually piggy back on the content from the UK or US depending on the edition, each region had their own policies so it’s very interesting for collectors.”
He continues, explaining the significance of the books written by the scouting fore fathers “you also have to remember that it’s not just Scouting for Boys and Aids to Scouting, Baden-Powell had 12 other books before Aids to Scouting was published. He was quite a prolific author and continued to write well into the 1930’s and most of his work is collected. Two other names to watch for are Dan Beard (creator of The Sons of Daniel Boone) and Ernest Thompson Seton (creator of the Woodcraft Indians) both merged their organizations into the Boy Scouts of America in 1910 and subsequently their books are also collected among Scout enthusiasts.” Beard and Seton were also prolific authors penning over 100 titles penned between them. Beard was not only a writer but an illustrator too, he included drawings into many of for his books and occasionally other authors, you can see his work in the pages of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
The growth of the scouting movement lead to authors and publishers to tailor their books toward Scouts and the Boy’s Fiction genre began to grow in the 1920’s. Percy Fitzhugh was one such author who penned several series of books including the Tom Slade, Westy Martin, Pee-wee Harris and Roy Blakeley series. Another popular series was The Every Boys Library. The books were branded towards Scouts including the Scouting insignia, and included themes that would be of interest to young boys in the scouting movement. These re-released classic novels included the likes of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe.
Books about Robert Baden-Powell