Boy Scout Handbook

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Scouts BSA Handbook
Cover of the 12th edition
AuthorBoy Scouts of America
CountryUnited States
Publication date
1910, 1st edition
2020, 14th edition
369.43 22
LC ClassHS3313 .B69 2009
TextScouts BSA Handbook at Wikisource

Scouts BSA Handbook is the official handbook of Scouts BSA, published by the Boy Scouts of America. It is a descendant publication of Baden-Powell's original handbook, Scouting for Boys, which has been the basis for Scout handbooks in many countries, with some variations to the text of the book depending on each country's codes and customs.

The handbook opens by introducing the Scout Oath, the Scout Law, the Scout Motto, and the Scout Slogan of BSA. There are currently two editions of the Scouts BSA Handbook, one for girls and one for boys, but other than photographs, the content is essentially the same.

The original edition of the BSA handbook was based on Baden-Powell's work. Ernest Thompson Seton combined his Woodcraft manual, the Birch Bark Rolls, with Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. Subsequent works were done by other authors. William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt wrote the 6th, 7th, and 9th editions. Frederick L. Hines wrote the 8th, and Robert Birkby the 10th, 11th and 12th editions.[1]

Purpose of the Handbook[edit]

Since its first edition, the Boy Scout Handbook was published to be the primary reference for scouts. It was used by scouts at a time when the internet was not available and included practical information a scout needed. It also was designed as a moral compass. It was and still is brought out of the classroom and into the field including on camping outings. Many copies did not survive these years of use in harsh environments and very few early examples have survived to this day in good conditions.[2]


1910 Original Edition Handbook[edit]

The first Official Handbook, subtitled A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft was published from July 1910 until March 1911 and appeared in eight distinct variations. It was written by Ernest Seton and drew greatly on Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys, it included information on the organization of Scouting, signs and signaling, and camping, as well as Scouting games and a description of several Scouting honours. Notably, this book did not place emphasis on first aid, knife and axe use, or map and compass work, as later editions would. Because this edition was intended solely as a temporary guide until an authoritative handbook could be made, it is now known as the 1910 Original Edition Handbook. The cover art was an illustration by Baden-Powell. There were about 28,000 copies printed, not 68,900 as previously thought.[1][3]

First Edition[edit]

The Official Handbook for Boys was published in June 1911.[1] In this edition, the American Scouting program was standardized, albeit with many omissions and mistakes (cf. external links). As with the Original Edition, many now-standard Scouting skills were passed over, including knife and axe use and map and compass work.

The book describes many Scout-like virtues and qualifications. After a lengthy section on what a Scout should know, including chivalry, history, and national issues, it is noted that "in short, to be a good Scout is to be a well-developed, well-informed boy."[4]

On June 17, 2005, a re-print of the First Edition was published by Dover Publications. The book contains all the original material in 448 pages.[5][6]

Scouts BSA[edit]

The Boy Scouting program began admitting girls in 2019 and was renamed Scouts BSA. The handbook was renamed the Scouts BSA Handbook for the 14th edition. It is available in two editions with identical content but one with photos of boys and one of girls. The board of directors wanted to make sure that male and female scouts alike would see themselves within the pages of the Handbook. The text however is identical in both version including the requirements and program elements remaining unchanged from the 13th edition.[7] The boys' version has a green with lettering and First Class Rank Emblem in metallic gold cover, while the girls' version is tan with the same lettering and First Class Rank Emblem in metallic green cover.[8]

All Editions[edit]

Dates and names of the various editions are:[1]

  • The Official Handbook for Boys: A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft (1st ed.). 1910–1911.
  • The Official Handbook for Boys (2nd ed.). 1914–1927.
  • The Official Handbook for Boys (Every Boy's Library (Boy Scouts of America Edition) ed.). 1914–1927.
  • Revised Handbook for Boys (3rd ed.). 1927–1940.
  • Revised Handbook for Boys (4th ed.). 1940–1948.
  • Handbook for Boys (5th ed.). 1948–1959.
  • Boy Scout Handbook (6th ed.). 1959–1965.
  • Boy Scout Handbook (7th ed.). 1965–1972.
  • Scout Handbook (8th ed.). 1972–1979.[9][10]
  • Official Boy Scout Handbook (9th ed.). 1979–1990.[11]
  • Boy Scout Handbook (10th ed.). 1990–1998.
  • Boy Scout Handbook (11th ed.). 1998–2009.
    • Boy Scout Mini Handbook (11th ed.). 2009.; an extract of the standard handbook for use as a temporary advancement record
  • Boy Scout Handbook (12th ed.). 2009–2016.
  • Boy Scout Handbook (13th ed.). 2016–2019.
  • Scouts BSA Handbook for Boys (14th ed.). 2019.
  • Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls (14th ed.). 2019.
Number of Prints by Edition
Editions Original[12] 1st[13] 2nd[13] 3rd[14] 4th[14] 5th[15] 6th[16] 7th[16] 8th[17] 9th[18] 10th[19] 11th[20] 12th[21] 13th
Years Printed 1 year 3 years 13 years 13 years 8 years 11 years 6 years 7 years 7 years 11 years 8 years 11 years 6 years 3 years
Total Copies 68,900 313,500 2,610,471 3,507,129 3,645,000 6,405,000 3,875,000 4,335,000 3,700,000 4,400,000 3,150,000 2,760,000 1,375,000 unknown
Average per year 68,900 104,500 200,805 269,779 455,625 582,272 645,833 619,286 528,571 400,000 393,750 307,000 229,000 unknown



Most of the handbooks were soft cover usually made of heavy paper. However, some very limited runs also used leather, vinyl and oilcloth. The paper used was always off-white with black ink with the exception of the 3rd edition that was printed using green ink. The first editions were printed in black and white. Later on, full color printing was used in the handbook itself.[22]

The binding used until around 1970 was stitched signatures (as seen in most hardcover books). Starting at the end of the 7th edition, the cheaper perfect binding was used where each page is glued to the spin (as in a paper pad). This resulted in most Handbooks falling apart even faster, especially with the abuse scouts put tem through in the field. Some coil-bound version were introduced to resolve this issue but were sold at a higher price. Finally, the 13th edition was made available only in the coil-bound version as is the current 14th edition.[22]

Cover Artwork[edit]

The Handbook has gone through 17 covers over the years:[22]

  • 2 line drawings
  • 1 color sketch
  • 1 plain cover
  • 4 photo montages
  • 9 paintings

Four of these covers only were not full color: Original 1910, 1st Edition, early 8th and the 14th Boy and Girl editions.[22]

Various artists contributed to the artwork on the cover including Don Ross, the former BSA art director who is responsible for both covers of the 5th edition and Norman Rockwell who painted the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 9th editions. However, only the 6th edition was painted specifically to be a Handbook cover. The other three were originally used on the Brown & Bigelow annual Scout calendars.[22]


The content of the Handbook has varied from year to year and covered a wide range of subjects essential for scouts.

For exemple, the 1911 First Edition included the following content:[23]

  • The Scout Oath and Scout Law
  • Rank requirements
  • Badges and awards
  • How to tie specific knots
  • Woodcraft
  • Campcraft
  • Tracks, Trailing and Signaling
  • Health and Endurance
  • Chivalry
  • First Aid and Life Saving
  • Games and Athletic Standards
  • Patriotism and Citizenship.

The handbook has changed over time to reflect the evolution of the Boy Scouts of America program, including the implementation of the Youth Protection program and the admission of girls in the program. While many of the ressources are now available online, all youth involved in Scouts BSA today still uses the Scout BSA Handbook as a reference and to track their journey in the program.


The following subjects were first addressed in the following editions:[22]

  • Original (1910): starting a fire without matches
  • 1st (1911): use of alcohol and tobacco, first aid, hiking and puberty
  • 2nd (1914): conservation, safe use of knife and axe, mapping and silent signals
  • 3rd (1927): compass and cooking without utensils
  • 4th (1940): drug use
  • 5th (1948): Scout slogan, edible wild plants, lashing and first introduction of the "outdoor code"
  • 6th (1959): mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • 7th (1965): first non-Caucasian people
  • 8th (1972): discussion of ethnic groups and modern conservation practices
  • 9th (1979): splicing and backpacking
  • 10th (1990): bicycling, camping stoves, water filtration and organ donor awareness
  • 11th (1998): Leave No Trace, GPS and the internet
  • 12th (2009): how to tie a necktike, the food pyramid, geocaching and the Handbook website
  • 13th (2016): use of multitool and STEM
  • 14th (2019): teen sexting and first edition exclusively for girls


From 1911 to 1964, advertising was found in the Handbook and helped subsidize the cost of production. The advertising stopped after 1964 with the exception of the 1975/1976 printing of the 8th Edition that also contained advertising.[22]

Advertising was provided by companies primarily focused on categories that appealed to boys including camping-related goods, sports equipment, clothing and food products. Food products included chewing gum, canned sardines, pancakes, shredded wheat, chocolate,and baked beans. However, most ads were for rifles and ammunition. Among well-known brands that advertised in the handbook were Coca-Cola, Life Savers, Mercurochrome, Kodak, Wrigley Gum, Harley-Davidson and Aunt Jemima.[22]

Variations in Content[edit]

Scout Handbook Comparison through the years[24]
Edition Original 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th
Years 1910-
Handbook Content
Content Arranged by Subject Subject Subject Rank Rank Subject Rank Rank Subject Subject Subject Subject/
Subject Subject Subject
Advertising No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes1 No Yes2 No No No No No No
Index Present No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scouting Information
How to become a Scout Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rank requirements Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scout Oath, Law & Motto Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scout Slogan No No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scout Sign & Salute Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scout Handshake 5 fingers* No 3 fingers** 3 fingers** 3 fingers** 3 fingers** 3 fingers** 3 fingers** 5 fingers* 5 fingers* 5 fingers* 5 fingers* 5 fingers* 5 fingers* 5 fingers*
Where to wear the uniform No No Yes2 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
How to wear the neckerchief Yes No No Yes2 Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Patrol Information (name, call, etc.) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Troop Leader Duties Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Scouting History No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Sr. Scouting, Exploring & Venturing No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Varsity & Venture Scouting No No No No No No No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Sea Scouting & Sea Exploring Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes1 No No No No No Yes No Yes Yes
Lone Scouting & others No No Yes2 Yes Yes No No No No No Yes Yes No No No
List of Official BSA Equipment No Yes No Yes2 Yes No No No No No No No No No No

1Early prints only
2Late prints only
*International Handshake
**Boy Scouts of America Handshake


  1. ^ a b c d Editions: Boy Scout Handbook by Boy Scouts of America. LibraryThing. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2011.
  2. ^ "The Boy Scouts: A Cultural History through Handbooks". Iowa University Libraries. Iowa University. February 5, 2014. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  3. ^ Scott, David C. (2006). "The Origins of BSA's 1910 Handbook". International Scouting Collectors Association Journal (ISCA Journal). 6 (4): 6–13.
  4. ^ "Boy Scout Handbook Covers". Boy Scouts of America: 95 Years of Service. Boy Scouts of America. 2005. Archived from the original on October 1, 2005. Retrieved June 9, 2007.
  5. ^ "Boy Scouts Handbook - The First Edition, 1911". Dover Publications. Dover Publications. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  6. ^ ISBN 9780486439914
  7. ^ "Details on Scouts BSA uniform, handbook availability". Aaron on Scouting. Boy Scouts of America. January 18, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  8. ^ "Scout Shop". BSA Scout Shop.
  9. ^ "Eighth edition". History of the Boy Scout Handbook (BSA). Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  10. ^ "The Handbook's 8th Edition Brings Big Changes to Scout Skills". Scouting Wire. June 1, 2016.
  11. ^ "Ninth edition". History of the Boy Scout Handbook (BSA). Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  12. ^ Troop97 - Original Edition—A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft (1910-1911) -
  13. ^ a b Troop97 - 1st & 2nd Editions—The Official Handbook for Boys (1911-1927) -
  14. ^ a b Troop97 - 3rd & 4th Editions—Revised Handbook for Boys (1927-1948) -
  15. ^ Troop97 - 5th Edition—Handbook for Boys (1948-1959) -
  16. ^ a b Troop97 - 6th & 7th Editions—Boy Scout Handbook (1959-1972) -
  17. ^ Troop97 - 8th Edition—Scout Handbook (1972-1979) -
  18. ^ Troop97 - 9th Edition—Official Boy Scout Handbook (1979-1990) -
  19. ^ Troop97 - 10th Edition—Boy Scout Handbook (1990-1998) -
  20. ^ Troop97 - 11th Edition—Boy Scout Handbook (1998-2009) -
  21. ^ Troo97 - 12th Edition—Boy Scout Handbook (2009-2015) -
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Scout Handbook 1910-Today". Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  23. ^ "Boy Scouts Handbook The First Edition 1991". Gutenberg Project. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  24. ^ "Troop 97 Table Comparing the Content pf Every Edition" (PDF). Troop 97. Retrieved March 1, 2024.

External links[edit]