Celebrating the Anniversary of “Scouting for Boys” Publication

JANUARY 24, 1908

British Army officer Robert Baden-Powell publishes the first installment of Scouting for Boys, and the local troops that soon formed around its lessons became the foundation of the Boy Scouts movement. Baden-Powell, a war hero for his service in South Africa, had written earlier manuals for British soldiers that proved popular with younger readers.

Scouting for Boys (බාලදක්ෂ විද්‍යාව) Written by Robert Baden-Powell, Lieutenant General in the British Army and founder of the international Scouting movement, Scouting for Boys is one of the most influential manuals for youth ever published. First printed in 1908, it remains an all-time bestseller in the English-speaking world, second only to the Bible. The original blueprint and “self-instructor” of the Boy Scout Movement, Scouting for Boys is a fascinating fusion of “yarns and pictures,” an irresistible mixture of nationalistic narrative, tracker legend, and quotations from Baden-Powell’s own autobiography and the popular adventure fiction of Rudyard Kipling, James Fenimore Cooper, and Alexander Dumas. The book provides practical advice on lighting fires, building boats and stalking animals, alongside proper Victorian-era education on chivalry and manners, self-discipline and improvement, and above all, good citizenship. Expounding upon the topics intrinsic to the life of a scout tracking, woodcraft, camp life, endurance, patriotism, and more this classic is essential for anyone interested in popular culture and the history of scouting and youth education. Ninety original diagrams and illustrations enhance the text.

Scouting for Boys: A handbook for instruction in good citizenship is a book on Boy Scout training, published in various editions since 1908. Early editions were written and illustrated by Robert Baden-Powell with later editions being extensively rewritten by others. The book was originally a manual for self-instruction in observation, tracking and woodcraft skills as well as self-discipline and self-improvement, about the Empire and duty as citizens with an eclectic mix of anecdotes and unabashed personal observations and recollections. It is pervaded by a degree of moral proselytizing and references to the author’s own exploits. It is based on his boyhood experiences, his experience with the Mafeking Cadet Corps during the Second Boer War at the Siege of Mafeking, and on his experimental camp on Brownsea Island, England.

Scouting for Boys (1908) was Baden-Powell’s rewrite of his earlier book Aids to Scouting (1899) with many youth training ideas openly taken from The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians (1906) written by Ernest Thompson Seton, who later became the Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of America. Aids to Scouting was mostly a written explanation of the military scouting and self-reliance skills lessons Baden-Powell had learned from Frederick Russell Burnham, the British Army Chief of Scouts, but following the siege of Mafeking this military handbook unexpectedly became popular with many youth groups and educators, like Charlotte Mason, in Britain. At Mafeking, Baden-Powell’s adjutant had recruited and trained boys aged 12–15 as cadets and during the siege they acted as postmen, messengers, and later to carry the wounded, to free men for fighting. Upon his return to England, following the Second Boer War, Baden-Powell learned some British schools had been using Aids to Scouting to teach observation and deduction. In 1906, Seton discussed youth training ideas with Baden-Powell and shared with him a copy of The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft IndiansSoon after, Baden-Powell decided to revise Aids to Scouting into a book for boys. Several friends supported Baden-Powell, including Sir William Alexander Smith, founder of the Boys’ Brigade, Cyril Arthur Pearson, who owned newspapers and printing presses, and the novelist Maria Fetherstonhaugh, who provided a quiet Wimbledon house where he could write. Baden-Powell wrote a draft, then called Boy Patrols, which he used and tested with 22 boys for one week at camp on Brownsea Island in the summer of 1907, where Pearson’s literary editor Percy Everett assisted.

Scouting for Boys was published in six fortnightly instalments of approximately 70 pages each, from January to March 1908. They were produced by Pearson’s printer, Horace Cox. These six publications were a success and, as planned, were issued in book form on 1 May 1908. Although Aids to Scouting strongly influenced the book, Scouting for Boys presents Scouting from the perspective of outdoorsmen and explorers rather than military men, and it adds the Scout Oath, Scout Law, honours and games for youth. The book was revised and an enormous variety of editions were published. Many of these editions were edited by others and, far beyond mere editing, whole sections were written by authors other than Baden-Powell. The book was a best seller upon release, and, in its various editions, is claimed to have become one of the best-selling books in history. Scouting for Boys has been translated into many languages. In 1948, editions of the book were still selling 50,000 copies annually. Only in 1967 was a decline noted by the publisher and in the last decades of the 20th century the book came to be seen as a period curiosity even by the Scout Movement. It is claimed to be the fourth bestselling book of the 20th century. A realistic estimate is that approximately 4 million copies of the UK edition have been sold. Extrapolating this to 87 different language editions worldwide, historic world sales of Scouting for Boys can be estimated at 100 to 150 million copies since 1908.