I find it amazing how fast the scout movement spread after its creation. What I got from Wikipedia: Robert Baden-Powell became famous (rightly or not) at home for his activity in the British Army. When he learned that his military book "Aids to Scouting" had become popular outside the military, he wrote "Scouting for Boys" and started the Boy Scout movement. Just two years later, there were 100,000 boy scouts in groups around the world, including groups in more than ten countries outside the British dominions.

I could imagine various reasons for this success (people wanting to counteract the negative effects of industrialization etc.), but these are just guesses and I would love to hear more informed explanations.

(Sorry for the generic tags. Couldn't find better ones)

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    @MarkC.Wallace To be fair, going from nothing to 100,000 members in just two years does appear to be remarkable, if you are unfamiliar with the background. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 10:57
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    if that information were in the question, I would agree. Good question; would be better if it explained why OP is amazed.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 12:22
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    I would add that in the UK, Girl Guides started by girls forming their own "Girl Scouts" groups, in emulation of their brothers. Baden-Powell then asked his sister to formalise this as the Girl Guides. It must presumably have spoken to the zeitgeist, I'd be interested in the answer.
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 21:18
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    IIRC, Ian Hislop's BBC4 documentary on Baden-Powell and the scouting movement did try to opine about why it was so successful, including why it was more successful than the similar movements like Kibbo Kift and Woodcraft Chivalry, but I'm saying this on the basis of only a vague memory of it (if it wasn't a vague memory, I'd be able to tell you what those opinions had been).
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 8:58
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    @TheHonRose I'm not really sure that we can fully determine the reason as this distance. My grandmother was profoundly deaf. She was enrolled in the Girls' Guildry of Scotland when she was a girl growing up in Glasgow. Her cousins were allowed to join Girl Scout (later Girl Guide) groups, but she wasn't. Her parents worried about her deafness. When I joined the Cub Scouts as a young boy she told me how jealous she had been of her cousins. She said the Girls' Guildry of Scotland was incredibly dull, and Scouting looked exciting. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 14:12

2 Answers 2


Baden-Powell had been besieged in the town of Mafeking during the Second Boer War. He had formed the Mafeking Cadet Corps, which was a group of youths that supported the defending troops by carrying messages and similar tasks. This freed up men for military duties and kept the boys occupied during the prolonged siege.

Back in the UK, the newspapers, had followed the progress of the Siege of Mafeking. When the siege was broken, Baden-Powell became a national hero. On the back of this, people bought the small manual, Aids to Scouting, he had written some years earlier about military scouting and wilderness survival. This fuelled public interest in the subject of scouting.

When he returned to the UK, Baden-Powell became involved with the Boy's Brigade, becoming a Vice President of the organisation in 1903. This was already a large youth organisation (in 1910, there were some 100,000 boys enrolled in about 2200 companies across the British Empire and the United States).

When Baden Powell re-wrote his manual and published it as Scouting for Boys he fundamentally changed its ethos. He left out many of the military aspects and applied the techniques to other, non-military, heroes of the day like explorers and backwoodsmen. He also added the Scout Method which was an innovative, informal educational system intended to develop good character.

Scouting for Boys was originally published as a six-part series in 1908, and contained activities and programmes intended for use by existing youth organisations. It was an immediate success, but it seems that Baden-Powell had no intention of setting up a separate and distinct movement at that point.

"Scout patrols" which followed the principles set out in Baden-Powell's book were set up across the United Kingdom, and spread rapidly across the British Empire. The first Scout rally was held at Crystal Palace in London the following year. Some 11,000 Scouts attended - including some girls who dressed as Scouts and called themselves "Girl Scouts".

When Baden-Powell left the army in 1910, he founded the Boy Scouts Association and, shortly afterwards, the Girl Guides. In reality though, both organisations already existed in nascent form. People were attracted by the chance to emulate their heroes, and also by the fact that Scouting emphasised more adventurous, outdoor games than were usual in other youth organisations of the time (like the Boy's Brigade, for example). Then, as now, the skills learned by Scouts were seen as fun.

Initially, many groups made dual registrations with the Boy's Brigade and the Boy Scouts Association. This capitalised on the existing infrastructure and fuelled the rapid growth of the Scout movement.

The fact that the Scout movement also catered for girls widened its appeal, since many of the youth movements up to that point had been for boys only. As noted above, the Girl Guides were formed by Baden-Powell and his sister, Agnes, just months after the Boy Scouts Association. (Agnes Baden-Powell would lead the Girl Guides until 1918 when Olave Baden-Powell took over as Chief Guide.)

The programme offered by the Girl Guides was radically different from those being proposed by other organisations for girls at that time. For example, the precursors of the Girls' Brigade had the goal of:

helping girls become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ through self-control, reverence, and a sense of responsibility.

It is not hard to see that many girls, having read Scouting for Boys, would prefer to follow their brothers into scouting, and this is exactly what happened at the first Scout Rally in 1909.

It is, perhaps, sometimes hard to remember just how progressive Baden-Powell was being when he made the decision to include girls in the Scout movement in 1910. For context, it is worth remembering that the girls' equivalent of the Boy's Brigade, the Girls’ Association, wasn't formed until 2008!

  • Interesting information, especially on the relationship with the Boy's Brigade and on the girls. I am hesitating to accept your response as an answer because I think it still misses the discussion of the "why" (as mentioned in the other comments). Building on the Boy's Brigade was certainly an advantage for BP, but it seems his scout movement was perceived as different and new enough by him and others to quickly go its own ways.
    – trunklop
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 15:52
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    @trunklop I think the fact that the Scout movement built on the existing BB infrastructure is exactly the reason that it was so successful. As for exactly why scouting was so popular, I suspect that there were a variety of reasons. I can speculate on some of these, based on anecdotal evidence from my own family, but I certainly wouldn't want to project those views onto the whole movement. But it wasn't BP who decided it should go its own way. He was presented with a fait accompli. The first Scout rally was a year before the Boy Scouts & Girl Guides were even founded. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 18:01

According to William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book "Generations", one reason the scouting movement was so successful was it came at "just the right time," at least for Americans. One demonstration of this fact was that shortly after Robert Baden Powell founded the original movement in Britain in 1908, William Boyce founded an echo movement in the U.S. for boys in 1910, and Juliette Low quickly also did so for girls in 1912. And the popularity of both Boy and Girl Scouts in the United States assured the success of the movement globally.

The scouting movement coincided with the childhoods of what later became the World War II generation. At that time, America wasn't thinking of fighting a major war three decades in the future; in 1912, even World War I hadn't begun. What was then on Americans' minds was the recent "closing of the frontier". and the fact that there were no national exploration tasks for the next generation. Instead, "scouting" became a wholesome and less dangerous "urban" substitute for children, replicating some of the outdoorsy "frontier" experiences, without the actual dangers of dealing with wild animals and hostile Native Americans. Indeed, scouting worked well with the growing urbanization of the United States at the time.

By the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the nation had gotten over the civil war, and quasi-military activities, including wearing uniforms, became respectable again, especially in the watered down form provided by scouting. (Similarly, America got over its Vietnam war funk around the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries.)

Another attraction of scouting (to adults) was that it kept children off the streets and provided natural outlets into which their natural youthful energies could be channeled. Coming too late to do much for World War I, this "channeling" of youth stood America in good stead during the Depression (e.g., the Civilian Conservation Corps), and of course, World War II itself, before being replaced with different, "Dr. Spock" child rearing methods after the war.

The scouting movement also fit in with the "rugged life" and conservation ethos being preached by American leaders of the time, notably Theodore Roosevelt.

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