History of merit badges (Boy Scouts of America)

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Merit badge
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The history of merit badges in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has been tracked by categorizing them into a series of merit badge types. In addition to the Boy Scouts of America, many other Scouting and Scouting-like organizations around the world, such as Pathfinders, Baden-Powell Scouts and Royal Rangers, issue merit badges or their equivalent; though they are sometimes called honors or proficiency badges. Other organizations, such as fire brigades, issue badges or awards that they refer to as merit badges, but that is in some respects different from the badges awarded by the BSA.

Merit badges have been an integral part of the Scouting program since the start of the movement in the United Kingdom on August 1, 1907, and are an important part of the uniform and insignia of Scouts, BSA. Scouting came to the United States in 1910; the BSA quickly issued an initial list of just 14 merit badges but did not produce or award them. In 1911, the BSA manufactured the first official 57 merit badges and began awarding them.[1][2] The number of badges available has been as high as 127 in 1975 and again in 1987.[3] As of February 2017, the number of badges available is 137. Merit badge types are identifiable by the cloth and manufacturing process used to make them. The classification of badges into types came about as a way for collectors to categorize and classify their collections. Merit badge collectors often collect other Scouting memorabilia as well.

Purpose of merit badges[edit]

Merit badges exist to encourage Scouts to explore areas that interest them and to teach them valuable skills in Scoutcraft.[4] The award of merit badges sometimes leads to careers and lifelong hobbies.[5] Scouts earn a merit badge by satisfying specified criteria; a Court of Honor is then held to present the badge. Scouts can earn badges at any point in their Scouting career, although this was not always the case — in the 1960s, Scouts first had to earn the rank of First Class before being allowed to work on and earn badges.[6] The higher ranks of Star, Life, and Eagle require merit badges be earned. Certain badges are mandatory to receive these higher ranks. For a few years during the 1980s and 90s, First Aid merit badge was a requirement for the First Class rank.[7] Other mandatory badges include Citizenship in the Community and Environmental Science (see full list). The number of merit badges required for each of these higher ranks has varied historically, as has the ratio of mandatory merit badges and non-mandatory badges for those ranks.[8] Since 2005, Scouts must earn a total of 21 merit badges for the Eagle Scout rank, 14 of which must be from the mandatory list. Once Scouts attain the Eagle rank, they can earn Eagle Palms, a core requirement of which is earning more merit badges.[9]

Badge history[edit]

A Boy Scout merit badge sash from the 1920s

The BSA changes the design, name, and availability of merit badges depending on various factors such as their popularity, shifts in the focus of the Scouting program, and changes in society.[3] Of the original 57 merit badges from 1911,[2] only 11 are still available that also still have the same basic design motif (Architecture, Art, Athletics, Chemistry, First Aid, Lifesaving, Music, Plumbing, Public Health, Scholarship, and Surveying).[10] Of those 11, only five were made available in each "generation" of the 10 merit badge types (these are Architecture, Art, Chemistry, Plumbing, and Public Health). The remaining six were not reproduced in a short-lived "generation" of merit badges, Type I.[10] There are another 21 merit badges still available that are essentially the same as 1911 merit badges but with different designs: American Business (was Business), Archery, Astronomy, Aviation, Bird Study (was Ornithology), Bugling, Camping, Cooking, Cycling, Electricity, Fire Safety (was Firemanship), Fishing (was Angling), Forestry, Gardening, Horsemanship, Painting, Photography, Pioneering, Sculpture, Small Boat Sailing (was Seamanship), and Swimming.[3]

Examples of merit badge change due to the degree of popularity/interest in a subject include "Interpreting", which only existed from 1911 to 1952, when it was dropped; and "Genealogy" which was added in 1972 when interest in that subject increased.[11]

An example of merit badges reflecting changes in the focus of the Scouting program is "Civics", which was originally the only citizenship-related merit badge. In 1947 the name was changed to "Citizenship."[12] In 1952, the BSA split "Citizenship" into four separate badges, which were in turn modified several times. Since 1991, the badges in this group are "Citizenship in the Community", "Citizenship in the Nation", "Citizenship in the World", and "Family Life", all four of which are currently on the mandatory list for Eagle Scout.[13]

The "First Aid to Animals" and "Plant Science" merit badges have both evolved due to societal changes. "First Aid to Animals" was one of the original merit badges in 1911 but was dropped in 1972.[14] It was resurrected as "Veterinary Science" in 1973[14] with a focus on small pet-type animals vs. farm animals. It was renamed "Veterinary Medicine" in 1995.[15] Merging of merit badges can be seen in "Plant Science", into which all crop growing merit badges were merged in the 1970s.[16] Similarly, most of the merit badges related to animal husbandry were merged into "Animal Science".[17][18]

The "Personal Health" merit badge was an original 1911 badge with a heart motif.[19] It was merged with the "Physical Development" badge and was replaced in 1952 with the "Personal Fitness" badge.[19] It was redesigned in 1969, displaying a youth in gym gear doing what appears to be a jumping jack exercise.[19]

The merit badges on the mandatory list for Eagle Scout have changed several times; "First Aid" is the only merit badge that has always been on the mandatory list for Eagle Scout. In 1969, the BSA began manufacturing those merit badges that are required in order to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout with a silver border instead of the green border used on other merit badges.[20] In honor of the 100th anniversary of the BSA, a historical merit badge program was announced by BSA. Scouts could earn any of the four merit badges: Carpentry, Pathfinding, Signaling, and Tracking. Each had been previously retired in 1952, except Signaling, which was discontinued in 1992. These could be used as electives for Star Scout, Life Scout, and Eagle Scout, and had to be started and completed during 2010; after which these badges would again be retired.[21] There have been a number of discontinued merit badges over the years.

A new merit badge for Robotics was jointly announced by NASA and the Boy Scouts of America in July 2011.[22] This new badge recognizes the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and the 'wide-reaching impact of robotics'.[22] The BSA worked for 14 months to develop this new badge, collaborating with organizations such as iRobot, Vex Robotics, the Boston Museum of Science, Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy and NASA.[23] The BSA currently has 31 STEM-related merit badges.

Boy Scouts who have earned all merit badges[edit]

There have been 474 confirmed Boy Scouts who have earned all the merit badges.[citation needed] The first Boy Scout to do so was Stephen Porter in 1914.[24] The first Boy Scout to earn all the merit badges before earning his Eagle was David R. Schulze in 2004.[citation needed] Both of his younger brothers Lance Schulze and Aaron Schulze would follow in his footsteps making them one of four families where all three sons earned every merit badge.[citation needed] The other trios are the Kunz brothers from San Diego, the Pugh brothers from Ferndale, and the Weeks brothers from South Ogden.[citation needed] The first Boy Scout to earn all the merit badges and go on to travel to every sovereign country was Indy Nelson in 2011, with the latter achieved in 2017.[25]

A record of Boy Scouts who have earned all available merit badges can be found at Merit Badge Knot.com.[26] This record may be incomplete, but it is the best record currently available. Additionally, scouts who have earned all the merit badges may receive a square knot patch from Merit Badge Knot.com.[27]

Types of merit badges[edit]

According to collectors and badge historians, there have been 11 major styles of merit badges: Types A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J,[28] and K.[29]

Type A[edit]

Essential facts Description
Gardening merit badge, type A.png
Nickname: square[31]
Years of Issue:
Background Type A merit badges were manufactured in rolls and then cut into squares approximately 2" (5 cm) square, hence its nickname square.[31]
Front Type A badges are known for their square or rectangular-shaped cloth with circular embroidered design. During one period of time, these badges were distributed in a roll containing many badges, with each individual badge being cut from the roll. Uncut rolls are said to exist.[32]
Reverse Some Type A, B, and C badges bear black watermarks or partial watermarks of the BSA emblem on the back as these were printed on the back of the rolls at certain intervals.[31]

Type B[edit]

(Public Health)
Essential facts Description
Public Health merit badge, type B.png Nickname: wide border[33]
Years of Issue:
1934–1935[33] Unusually large size
Background Some Type B and C badges retained the same cloth color as Type A, but most came in a darker tan/brown cloth.
Front Type B merit badges were the first badges to be manufactured with a smooth, round shape, which the manufacturer produced by folding the badge's edge under the back and crimping it.[33] Type C, D, and E badges were also manufactured in this manner, hence Types B–E are referred to as crimped. Type B badges have a diameter of about 1¾" (44 mm) after crimping. Type B has a margin of 3/16" to 1/4" (5–6 mm) between the edge of the badge and the embroidered green ring; because this margin is wider than in the Type C badge.[34]
Reverse As with Type A, some Type B badges bear watermarks on the back.[31]

Type C[edit]

Essential facts Description
Civics merit badge, type C.png Nickname: narrow border, narrow tan
Years of Issue:
Background Type C merit badges were made from the same type of cloth as Type B badges, but were a little smaller in width.[35]
Front The diameter of a Type C badge from outer edge to the outer edge is about 1½" (38 mm), with the distance from the crimp to the outer edge of the green ring being 1/8" (3 mm).[33] Size is the only difference in Types B and C;[33] hence the nicknames narrow border and narrow tan. In fact, all Type C, D and E badges are the same sizes. Compare Types B and C side-by-side; the difference in the distance from the outer crimp edges to the green rings is obvious. Beginning with Type C, all merit badges have been made with a diameter of 1½" (38 mm), except for a few Type I designs (see below). Most Type C badges were not made after 1942 (see Type D section below); only the Air Scout aviation blues, which came in four designs, were made in Type C from 1942–46.[36] These had the standard Type C cloth but were fully embroidered with blue backgrounds inside a blue ring. This is the only time badges were made with blue rings.[3][35]
Reverse As with Type A, some Type C badges bear watermarks on the back. Type C, D, and E merit badges all have to size on the back, which serves as a stiffener to help the badge retain its crimp.[35]

Type D[edit]

Essential facts Description
Camping merit badge, type D.png Nickname: fine twill, sand twill[37]
Years of Issue:
Background Type D merit badges were made from a lighter weight cloth with a much finer weave and lighter tan color than Type C badges because the heavier, thicker weave material that Type C badges were made from was needed to make uniforms needed during World War II.[37] This is the only difference between a Type C and Type D.[38][39]
Front Because of its finer weave twill material, Type D badges are called fine twill.[37] Another name for them is sand twill because of their sandy color.[37] The only Type C badges made during this era were the aforementioned Type C aviation–blues. Because sand twills were made such a short time many decades ago; they are rather rare.[39]
Reverse As with Type C, Type D badges have to size on the back.

Type E[edit]

(Dog Care)
Essential facts Description
Dog Care merit badge, type E.png
Nickname: khaki green, khaki
Years of Issue:
1947–1960[37] Last type with crimped edges
Background Type E merit badges were made from the same material as Type C badges, but the color is a decidedly darker green, hence the nickname khaki green.[37] This is the only difference in Type C and Type E.[41]
Front Serious collectors have Type B, C, D, and E merit badges recrimped to restore their original appearance as many badges lose their neat appearance over the years if the merit badge is not cared for properly. If a Type E badge has had significant washings or sun exposure it can be hard to tell from a Type C.[42]
Reverse As with Type C, Type E badges have to size on the back.

Type F[edit]

Essential facts Description
Swimming merit badge, type F.png Nickname: khaki twill, rolled edge twill[43]
Years of Issue:
1961–1968[43] Not all badges appeared in this type
Background Type F badges replaced the earlier crimped edge badges with a "rolled" edge, which is stitched around the outside to prevent unraveling.[44]
Front Type F was introduced concurrently with Type G (see below), and both types were manufactured together for several years. The difference in the motif is that whereas Type F badges had a plain background, Type G badges were completely embroidered inside the green ring.[43] Some badge motifs had been made this way since Type A; they moved directly to Type G and never appeared in Type F.[44]
Reverse The BSA introduced an extra layer of cloth backing underneath the khaki cloth. Type F used gauze or cheese cloth and subsequent badge types used a fuller solid cloth backing.[44]

Type G[edit]

(Forage Crops)
Essential facts Description
Forage Crops merit badge, type G.png
Nickname: cloth back[43]
Years of Issue:
Background While all Type G badges have full embroidery inside the green ring, there were a few Type A, B, C, D, and E merit badges with full embroidery and hence do not exist as Type F merit badges;[43] examples are: "Foundry Practice", "Grasses, Legumes, and Forage Crops" (later shortened to "Forage Crops"), "Farm Layout and Building Arrangement", and "Farm Home and its Planning".
Front In 1969, the BSA started issuing silver-bordered badges for those badges that were on the mandatory list for Eagle rank.[43] Silver–bordered badges appear in Type G, H, and J. Consequently, the border color of a badge will change when it goes on and off the mandatory list. A good example is "Camping" Type H, which had a green border from 1973 to 1977, yet silver border before and after that;[46] so this particular green border "Camping" variety is fairly rare.
Reverse Type G badges were the first to appear with a full cloth backing hence the nickname cloth back.[43]

Type H[edit]

Essential facts Description
Collections merit badge, type H.png Nickname: plastic back[47]
Years of Issue:
Background Type H merit badges are made with a plastic–coated backing, hence the nickname plastic back.[47] The plastic coating is most commonly clear,[47] but is also found in a milky white color. From 1972 until sometime after 1980, blue plastic–coated merit badges were often issued. Over a hundred different types of blue-plastic back badges are known to exist. On badges made out of blue cloth, it can be difficult to tell if the plastic is clear or blue.[48][49]
Front Type G, H, I and J badges are all fully embroidered.[47] As they were made for 30 years, Type H merit badges are by far the most common.
Reverse Type H and all subsequent badges have both the full cloth back of a Type G and a plastic-coated backing for durability.[47]

Type I[edit]

(White Water)
Essential facts Description
Whitewater merit badge, type I.png Nickname: computer designed[47]
Years of Issue:
Background Type I merit badges were designed using computers, hence the nickname computer design. The background stitching is flatter than that of Type G, H, and J badges and has the appearance of having punched holes, but the most obvious difference is in the green border––it is no longer rolled, but flat.
Front The BSA decided to phase in these badges beginning in 1993 and were discontinued in 1995. Only 30 varieties appear as Type I.[47] So while not that old, they are also not that common. They were made in two sizes: 38 mm and 42 mm. Two different sizes of merit badges can not be lined up neatly on the same sash. These badges came individually packaged in plastic bags with identification labels.[50]
Reverse There is a lockstitch and a brown ring stitched just inside the green ring on the obverse side of a Type I badge.

Type J[edit]

(Fish and Wildlife Management)
Essential facts Description
Fish and Wildlife Management merit badge, type J.png Nickname: Scout Stuff
Years of Issue:
Background The BSA started putting its supply division logo on all patches (ranks, position, numerals, etc.) in 2002 to reduce counterfeiting and show support for the American labor force.[51]
Front The front of a Type J looks just like the front of a Type H badge.
Reverse The only difference between a Type J merit badge and a Type H badge is that a Type J has some variation of the BSA Supply Division's Scout Stuff logo stamped on the back; hence the nickname "Scout Stuff". The new logo variation verifies that the insignia was produced by Boy Scouts of America official suppliers and guarantees the supplier meets BSA standards and fair labor practices.[52]

Type K[edit]

(Scuba Diving)
Essential facts Description
Scuba Diving merit badge, type K.png Nickname: 2010, 100-year anniversary
Years of Issue: 2010–present
Background In 2010 BSA held a contest and changed the logo to the winner's brand new design to commemorate the BSA centennial.[29][53]
Front The front did not change from the type J.
Reverse The reverse has parts of the centennial logo, which consists of: the BSA fleur-de-lis in gold, "2010" in red, "BSA" in blue, and "100 years of scouting" in blue.[53]


Essential facts Description
Tracking merit badge Centennial.png Nickname: Historical
Year of Issue: 2010
Background As part of the BSA centennial, four discontinued original merit badges were available only for 2010: Carpentry, Pathfinding, Signaling and Tracking.[54]
Front The fronts use the original 1911 designs on a twill background with a gold mylar border.
Reverse The reverse has the centennial logo.

Errors vs variations[edit]

Manufacturing error on the First Aid to Animals merit badge, Type H, 1972

The visual appearance of a merit badge may alter due to several reasons.[55] A "variation" is a minor change, whether intentional or not. A "manufacturing error" is a mistake or significant deviation from the BSA-approved badge design during production. A "design error" is when a badge is manufactured the way it was designed, but the design had a significant flaw.

Specimen variations[edit]

Variations do not appreciably alter the badge's appearance or design.[55] Two types of variations include positional changes and stitching changes. These are often caused by manufacturing variations and are not classified separately. However, some variations have attained notoriety, such as the waffle weave variation found among Type C badges and the large people vs. slender people variations among Family Life badges.[56] Such variations were very common up until the 1940s and still occur, though not as often. Collectors find these variations interesting and collect such badges.[57] Examples of positional shifts among the objects comprising the motif of a merit badge include changes in the precise positioning of the tent and the mountains among Camping Type H merit badges.

Stitch patterns and thread types such as silk or cotton are not always consistent.[55] There are three known stitching variations among the Type C Personal Health merit badges: "vertical heart", "horizontal heart", and "split heart"; the variation creates the appearance of a split down the middle of the heart. A similar error appears in both Type H and Type J Citizenship in the Nation badges, where colors vary in order from red, white, and blue to blue, white, and red; the reasons for this are unknown. Large and small bell varieties also exist.[58] Most Type C badges come in both cotton and silk thread variations. Emergency Preparedness was made with a red cross from 1972 until 1979, when it was replaced with a green cross in 1980. This change was intentionally made.[59]

Manufacturing errors[edit]

Genuine manufacturing errors occur from time to time. Some Atomic Energy Type G badges were made without a nucleus.[60] The only time a merit badge was made without a silver, green, blue (aviation blues only), or gold (2010 historicals only) border was in 1987 when Whitewater Type H badges were made with a black border.[61] Dairying appears in Type H with the cheese in both orange and burgundy. It is supposed to be orange.[62]

There have been at least three Type H badges made with little or no plastic; called plasticizing or Type G errors: American Cultures, Colonial Philadelphia,[63] and Journalism.[64] The Colonial Philadelphia patch was only available from 1975 until 1976 to Scouts in the Philadelphia region and could only be used for Eagle Palms.[63]

First Aid to Animals (FATA) Type H was made in error with a silver border in 1972. This is one of the most famous errors. It has a slight blue tint in the plastic back (see photos). It is believed that only about 100 of these were made and that only about 50 have survived to this day. Counterfeit versions of this badge error also exist.[65][66] Beekeeping merit badge Type G is also known in silver border error.[67]

Design errors[edit]

The known design errors are all from the early years. Beekeeping was made from 1914 to 1938 with only four legs instead of six simply because of human design error.[68] Beekeeping also exists in thick and thin bodies in Type C.[69] Insect Life was first made, from 1923 to 1924, with a spider on it. Since a spider is an arachnid, not an insect, the design was changed to an aphid the following year.[70] As this particular merit badge specimen was only issued for one year, it is extremely rare.

Spoof merit badges[edit]

Spoof merit badges are created and sold by various third parties as a parody or joke. A multitude of emblems includes snoring, walking, surfing, computer viruses, citizenship in the universe, snow art, text messaging, whining, boat sinking, duct tape, third wheeling, blister building, coffee drinking, dumpster diving, disorienting, farting, balding, paying with cash, communism, bankruptcy, tax sheltering, settling out of court, money laundering, calling someone the wrong name, tripped in public, high-five instead of fist bumping, having food in teeth, thinking stranger was waving at you, social anxiety, finger carving, surviving Covid-19, DIY surgery, grave robbery, cryptozoology, prank calling, mind contral, spying, cannibalism, arson, mob rule, time travel, invisibility, bribery, cult leader, immortality, conspiracy theory, social distancing, and adult beverage drinking.[71][72]


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  2. ^ a b Handbook 1911.
  3. ^ a b c d Henning.
  4. ^ Handbook 1911, p. 23.
  5. ^ Birkby 1998, p. 185.
  6. ^ Hillcourt 1965, p. 357.
  7. ^ Hillcourt 1979, p. 533.
  8. ^ U.S. Scouting 2007.
  9. ^ Peterson 2002.
  10. ^ a b Duersch 2003, pp. i–xi.
  11. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 36, 40.
  12. ^ Handbook 1948, p. 475.
  13. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 18–19, 29.
  14. ^ a b Duersch 2003, p. 33.
  15. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 62.
  16. ^ Hillcourt 1979, p. 470.
  17. ^ Hillcourt1979, p. 465.
  18. ^ Duersch 2008, pp. 9, 27, 52, 57.
  19. ^ a b c Duersch 2003, p. 48.
  20. ^ Hillcourt 1979, p. 467.
  21. ^ U.S. Scouting 2011b.
  22. ^ a b Netting 2011.
  23. ^ Katz 2011.
  24. ^ Eby.
  25. ^ "Merit Badge Program". Indy Nelson. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  26. ^ "Scouts Who Earned Every Merit Badge". Merit Badge Knot.com. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  27. ^ "Welcome!". Merit Badge Knot.com. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  28. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 1–6.
  29. ^ a b Wendell 2010.
  30. ^ Handbook 1911, p. 34.
  31. ^ a b c d e Duersch 2003, p. 1.
  32. ^ Duersch 2008, p. 1.
  33. ^ a b c d e f Duersch 2003, p. 2.
  34. ^ Duersch 2005f, pp. 14–17.
  35. ^ a b c Duersch 2007, pp. 15–18.
  36. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 2–3.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g Duersch 2003, p. 3.
  38. ^ Kuhfeld 2005, p. 7.
  39. ^ a b Duersch 2005c, pp. 20–22.
  40. ^ Handbook 1948, p. 480.
  41. ^ Kuhfeld 2005, pp. 6, 7.
  42. ^ Duersch 2004, pp. 10–12.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h Duersch 2003, p. 4.
  44. ^ a b c Duersch 2006, pp. 38–41.
  45. ^ Hillcourt 1965, p. 376.
  46. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 17.
  47. ^ a b c d e f g h i Duersch 2003, p. 5.
  48. ^ Kuhfeld 2005, pp. 9, 10.
  49. ^ Duersch 2008, pp. x, 5.
  50. ^ Duersch 2008, p. 5.
  51. ^ a b Duersch 2003, p. 6.
  52. ^ Duersch 2008, p. 6.
  53. ^ a b Murg 2008.
  54. ^ BSA 2010.
  55. ^ a b c Duersch 2008, p. ix.
  56. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 29.
  57. ^ Duersch 2003, p. x.
  58. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 18–19.
  59. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 28.
  60. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 11.
  61. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 63.
  62. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 26.
  63. ^ a b Duersch 2003, p. 21.
  64. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 41.
  65. ^ Reis 2007.
  66. ^ Duersch 2005m, p. 31.
  67. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 15.
  68. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 14–15.
  69. ^ Duersch 2003, p. 14.
  70. ^ Duersch 2003, pp. 40.
  71. ^ "Spoof Merit Badges". Eagle Peak Store. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  72. ^ Dean 2002.


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