Three founders of Boy Scouts of America in 1916. Left to right: Ernest Thompson Seton, Lord Robert Baden, Powell Daniel Beard. 1916.
Three founders of Boy Scouts of America in 1916. Left to right: Ernest Thompson Seton, Lord Robert Baden, Powell Daniel Beard. 1916.AP Photo
Three founders of Boy Scouts of America in 1916. Left to right: Ernest Thompson Seton, Lord Robert Baden, Powell Daniel Beard. 1916.
Boy scouts wearing U.S. Army uniforms sell Liberty Bonds in Chicago, Illinois, 1917.
Group of Boy Scouts bagging proceeds of Belgian Relief drive, Ohio. 1918.
Boy Scouts camped out in the store window of Abercrombie and Fitch as part of their recruitment drive for new scout members in New York. 1923.
Boy Scouts at the Parental School for Boys in Chicago, Illinois, 1926.
American boy scouts from New York, hauling up the American flag in front of their camp at Arrowe Park, Birkenhead in readiness for the International Scout Jamboree. United Kingdom, 1929.
Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, of New York, receiving the Medal of highest distinction as a gift of the boy scouts of America, from Judge Kernochan of the Court of General sessions, while on a visit August 23, 1930. The award was presented at the Ten Mile River Camp of the New York City Boy Scouts, near Montecello, New York.
A delegation of boy scouts at the grave of former President William Howard Taft in Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC, six months after his death. 1930.
Boy scouts carry banners in parade through Chinatown seeking aid for China's homeless.
Child actor Junior Coghlan playing the trumpet in a scout uniform. Circa 1935.
A Boy Scout has his arm tied up in a splint after it has been dressed by Red Cross workers from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., following the "evacuation" of about 2,000 New Yorkers who left for Dutchess County in New York, Sept. 9, 1941. Simulating wartime conditions volunteers left the city and drove north to avoid an imaginary "bombing" of New York. It was part of a demonstration of civilian defense work.
Boy Scouts collecting gas masks at a salvage drive. Hawaii, 1945.
A group of boy scouts carrying the American flag and other children standing in and around a car with a board reading 'Have you bought that pin money extra bond today?, March 24, 1945.
Denver Boy Scouts distributing posters to push campaign for aid to 230 million overseas children in desperate need of help. 1948.
Boy scouts of the 7th Royal Eltham Troop earning money for the Boy Scout Association by chopping firewood, 1949.
Mrs Harrison Davis, wife of Reverend Harrison Davis of the First Methodist Church of New Rochelle, New York, contributes a flag to a cub scout UN project.
Boy Scouts of various Manhattan troops salute with brotherhood week banner in front of a public library. 1958.
The Pine Tree Council, Boy Scouts of America, moved from Baxter Boulevard to new quarters on Auburn Street with Hunnewell Trucking helping out. Materials were loaded and unloaded by scouts and Hunnewell drivers. 1959.
Boy scouts starting fire, circa 1960.
J. Clinton Bowman, president of the Denver Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, presents a leather map of the Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch to three representatives of the Scouts- from left, Keat, Phil and Roger Johnson. 1966.
Three founders of Boy Scouts of America in 1916. Left to right: Ernest Thompson Seton, Lord Robert Baden, Powell Daniel
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Here's Why The Boy Scouts of America Received Federal Recognition 100 Years Ago

Correction appended, 2:52 p.m.

It would seem that during any quintessentially American moment—just a sample of which are seen in these photos from scouting's early days—there was a Boy Scout dutifully standing by. Presidential Inaugurations? A handful of Scouts have volunteered at every one since 1913. Or how about actually becoming President? The first scout leader President was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and America’s first actual Scout president was John F. Kennedy. Check and check. That’s just the Scout’s way.

But few know that a century ago, then-President Woodrow Wilson signed a unanimously-approved Congressional charter that gave federal recognition to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), stating at the time that “every nation depends for its future upon the proper training and development of its youth.” The charter — ratified a century ago on June 15, 1916 — allowed for the group to be recognized under Title 36, the part of U.S. law that recognizes "patriotic and national organizations," rather than having to seek incorporation state-by-state, explains Kevin Kosar, an expert in Title 36 and s enior fellow and governance project director with the research group R Street Institute.

Though the Scouts were founded in America on Feb. 8, 1910 by William D. Boyce , and thus celebrated their official centennial in 2010, the anniversary of the organization’s chartering is a reminder of just how involved the Scouts have been in government goings-on, and why Wilson may have felt compelled to officially incorporate the BSA after years of Scout support from Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (the first and only man ever declared Chief Scout Citizen) and William Howard Taft.

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The way Robert Birkby — author of three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook — tells it, there was a sizable amount of competition up against the Boy Scouts at the time. Shortly after British Army Officer Robert S. S. Baden-Powell wrote Scouting for Boys and effectively created the idea of the Scouts in 1908, many American groups sought to emulate the original British organization on U.S. soil. The Boy Scouts of America were just one. In Connecticut, Ernest Thompson Seton organized a group dubbed the Woodcraft Indians, while Daniel Carter Beard founded a similar group called the Sons of Daniel Boone. There was even the United States Boy Scouts, promoted by William Randolph Hearst, which Birkby describes as espousing a more militaristic take on scouting.

An official Congressional chartering under Title 36 would designate the Boy Scouts of America as the "true" scouting organization, and would provide it a national platform to recruit and organize for patriotic efforts. The chartering is still in place, and requires a few designated Scouts present the BSA's Report to the Nation each year to top officials in Washington.

Years after the chartering, a 1937 TIME cover story on the Scouts explained that the BSA was "no amateur movement, but a full-grown U.S. institution, one of the most elaborately integrated, self-perpetuating social mechanisms in a nation which dotes on organization." In the decade that followed, the Scouts assisted in the sale of war bonds, the promotion of so-called "Liberty Gardens" and the collection of used clothing and canned goods during times of war, all to national praise. As Birkby puts it, the organization's work during World War II showed that "Congress got it right, that scouting was there to be of assistance in time of need." President Franklin D. Roosevelt even penned a letter to Boys' Life in 1942 to note that, "Each and every Scout has a reason to feel proud of the part he has as a member of Uncle Sam's team to help us win the war."

These days, the Scouts—though no strangers to national controversy—are still on that team. For example, they're pushing new programs like as STEM Scouts that are in line with the values President Barack Obama pressed with the Educate to Innovate initiative in 2009, according to the BSA's Chief Scout Executive, Mike Surbaugh.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described Robert Birkby. He is the author of three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook.

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