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1937-nj1-jamboree-patch-header.jpg (20293 bytes) 1st National Jamboree
Boy Scouts of America

James E. West, Chief Scout Executive
Cover of Time Magazine, July 12, 1937


Time Magazine, July 12, 1937.

SCOUTS
National Jamboree

In Europe 725 years ago, children disappeared wholesale from their homes. Peasants in their fields stood and stared at a strange sight. Strung out for miles 20,000 youngsters traipsed along the cart tracks of Germany following a lad named Nicolas. In France other thousands, laughing, playing, singing hymns, made their way southward behind a lad named Stephen. The children attacked by the same urge which had already seized their elders, were going forth to reconquer the Holy Land for Christianity. Like their elders few of them ever returned. Where the army of German children went no man ever knew. All that they left behind was the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Where the French children went is better known. Many of them were kidnapped, sold to slavery in Egypt. Never until last week had the U. S. seen a juvenile mass migration comparable to the famed Children's Crusade of the 13th Century.

But last week the U. S. saw and heard more than 25,000 boys invade the city of Washington. Their tent cities spread beneath the Washington Monument, over Potomac Park both north and south of the Tidal Basin, across the river on Columbia Island and into the fields below Arlington National Cemetery on the Virginia shore. Everywhere bare-kneed youngsters in khaki perambulated through the streets with cameras and autograph books. Everywhere rose a babel of youthful voices, in childish versions of the accents of Maine and California, of Wisconsin and Texas. No connoisseur of mob scenes had ever seen such a sight; never before had the Boy Scouts of America held a National Jamboree.

For a whole day Washington's Union Station was bedlam as troops of grinning boys in uniform piled off trains accompanied by young Scout Masters. Busses hustled them out to the river front parks where cooking, dining, administration tents and innumerable little wooden comfort stations had already been erected. The arrivals scattered over 350 acres, erected bright-colored tents for themselves, pounded tent pegs and fingers. At 8:45 next morning a trench mortar boomed and 25,000 Boy Scouts stood at attention. It boomed again and the flags of 52 nations rose in an avenue of flags beneath the Washington Monument. It boomed a third time, up went 1,634 flags to 1,634 mastheads throughout the encampment. The ten-day Jamboree had opened.

Progenitors. On the first evening of the Jamboree one of its three compulsory functions was held. (The other two: church on Sunday, review by the President). Some 28,000 boys and Scout Masters crowded around the base of the Washington Monument for the lighting of the Camp Fire. Up stepped wizened little Daniel Carter Beard with trusty flint and steel, struck the spark which lit a torch which ignited two big campfires. Old Dan Beard had every right to that honor. He has worn out more deerskin shirts and done more for boys than any magazine illustrator now alive. At 87 he is still spry and alert throws hatchets for exercise.

When he was of Boy Scout age the Civil War was going on and Dan Beard lived along the Ohio River, where he saw some fighting. Afterwards he became a civil engineer, a surveyor of maps, then drifted to Manhattan, studied at the Art Students' League with Charles Dana Gibson and drifted into illustrating. It was 55 years ago that Illustrator Beard wrote and illustrated an article for St. Nicholas called "How to Camp Without a Tent." This was expanded into The American Boys' Handy Book which subsequently sold upwards of 250,000 copies to boys who wanted to do all sorts of things that a Scout today learns. But for almost another generation Dan Beard continued as illustrator and author of boys' books, and it was not until he was 55 and editor of the magazine Recreation, that in casting around for a circulation stunt he stirred up the beginnings of the American Scout movement. He founded in his columns The Boy Pioneers, Sons of Daniel Boone.

The name Boy Scouts came later, from overseas. During the Boer War, General Robert Baden-Powell perfected a course in scout training to teach the little Cockney recruits who were sent out to him how to be of some use in Africa's wilds. Later he went back to England and adapted it to training city-bred boys. General Baden-Powell, who was made an Earl for his good work and who, like Dan Beard, is still spry at 80 and exercises by touching his toes, gave more than a name to scouting. His British Scout oath and Scout laws were the basis around which the Boy Scouts of America were founded in 1910. When formed it was a merger between several U. S. organizations including Dan Beard's Sons of Daniel Boone and the Woodcraft Indians started by Naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton. The name Boy Scouts of America was incorporated by the late William D. Boyce of Chicago, publisher of the oldtime Saturday Blade (for farmers) and Ranger (for boys) to whom a British Boy Scout had done a good turn in a London fog. Also in on the founding were the Red Cross, the Y.M.C.A., the U. S. Army Medical Corps, Theodore Roosevelt's Outlook, the Russell Sage Foundation, and such assorted characters as Lincoln Steffens, Mortimer L. Schiff, Admiral Dewey John Wanamaker, Leonard Wood. But right from the start the most important figure was a young Washington attorney named James E. West, hired as executive to put the young organization on its feet.

James West was no Boy Scout in his youth. He was an orphan and in his boyhood he developed tuberculosis of the hip & knee so that he was an unwelcome inmate at Washington institutions. Over immense handicaps he got himself an education and became a lawyer. Interested in the Y.M.C.A., he was attending a settlement house meeting one evening when his one-lunged automobile disappeared. He found it at the foot of the hill along with a policeman and a badly scared boy. Summoned to court as a complaining witness he acted instead as the boy's attorney got him off from a charge of operating without a license. Then he went to President Theodore Roosevelt and demanded that a Juvenile Court be created for the District of Columbia. Thereafter T. R. was one of his backers.

From the day in 1910 when James West took his job with the Boy Scouts until last week which found him sitting at a mahogany desk in the administration tent under the Washington Monument, he has been running the Boy Scouts. That the Boy Scouts are today different from the boys organizations of Germany and Italy different from the British Boy Scouts, different from the puny organizations they were in 1910, is largely James West's doing.

Progeny. Dr. West's records show that there are 1,075,000 in the Boy Scout organization in the U. S., that altogether some 7,500,000 Scouts and Scout-leaders have been connected with the organization during the last 27 years. He calculates that nowadays one out of four U. S. boys is connected with the Scouts at some time during adolescence. What boys get from this contact is partly a knowledge of those boyhood arts which Dan Beard incorporated in his Boys' Handy Book 55 years ago, and partly exposure to propaganda, not of a political kind as in Fascist countries, but of the kind embodied in the Scout law.

The British Scout law of Lord Baden-Powell is long and rambling, the U. S. Scout law brief, better written. British Law No. 2 says: "A Scout is loyal to the King and to his officers and to his parents, his country and his employers. He must stick to them through thick and thin against anyone who is their enemy or who even talks badly of them." The U. S. Law No. 2 says simply: "A Scout is loyal. He is loyal to all to whom loyalty is due: his Scout Leader, his home and parents and country." Aside from the fact that loyalty to employers is not mentioned in the U. S. version out of deference to such organizations as John L. Lewis' United Mine Workers, who at one time looked askance at the Scouts, the difference is typical. Otherwise the parallelism is perfect through all the first nine Scout laws (Trustworthiness, Loyalty, Helpfulness ["at least one good turn every day"], Friendliness, Courtesy Kindness to Animals, Obedience, Cheerfulness, Thrift). But the U. S. Scouts added three laws of their own. U. S. Romanticism required the tenth law: "a Scout is Brave", U. S. sanitation required an eleventh law: "a Scout is Clean" (which the British afterwards copied). And the spirit of the Y.M.C.A. demanded the addition of the twelfth: "a Scout is Reverent."

Relatively young men who were Scouts only a few years ago are often ignorant of Scouting's present ramifications. Instead of entering the Scouts at 12, a youngster may now enter as a "Cub" at 9 After three years in a Cub Pack, he may become a tenderfoot Scout after learning the knots, etc., etc., a second-class Scout after learning first aid, woodcraft, etc., etc.; then a first-class Scout after swimming 50 yards, etc., etc., a Star Scout after winning five merit badges, a Life Scout (ten merit badges) and an Eagle Scout (21 merit badges). At 18 he becomes a Senior Scout and new vistas open before him. He may become a Sea Scout (with blue uniform) or an Explorer, and at 17 a Rover.

Not only has the curriculum lengthened but it has broadened. To take care of farm boys many agricultural merit badges are now obtainable. Water sports have been increased and one important Scout activity is to teach several thousand boys to swim every year. In the South colored Scout troops have been formed.

Meantime the central organization has blossomed out. Handbooks have been issued instructing Scoutmasters in all arts from raising money and handling parents, to the best psychological methods of picking patrol leaders the proper accounting forms for Scout funds. The funds of the general organization are elaborately budgeted and solidly provided for by receipts of 50 a year from each Scout and by the income from the Scout magazine,

Boy's Life (300,000 Scout subscribers at 75 each). A thoroughly integrated institution, the Boy Scouts have even an expert publicity department fully equal to such tasks as turning out a Jamboree Journal (16-page daily tabloid) the ten days at Washington. As for mimeographed press releases, they issue so well-prepared and so numerous from Boy Scout quarters that even the prolific press agents of the New Deal regarded them with awe. The Boy Scouts of America is today 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.

25,000 Monkeys. It was well that the Boy Scouts have an elaborate organization for it undertook no mean responsibility in bringing some 25,000 Scouts to Washington. A staff of nearly 200 doctors was kept busy examining every arrival to prevent any infectious disease getting started. In the first 48 hours only five boys were sent to Naval Hospital where arrangements had been made to hospitalize any Scout requiring more than 24 hours treatment: two had appendectomies, one a broken arm, one a bad case of poison ivy, one mumps. Doctors continued to make daily inspections of all Scouts who had had any contact with the mumps boy. Each troop held sick call every morning.

Bigger than the medical staff was the kitchen staff: 250 chefs in 25 big kitchen tents had the job of frying 100,000 flapjacks for breakfast, of coping with 30,000 quarts of milk, 70,000 eggs, two tons of sugar, 13,000 lb. of meat delivered every morning and serving it more or less hot to over 800 mess tents. Telephone connections and mail deliveries to the camp sites had to be organized on a similar scale.

But neither these arrangements nor the high ideals of scouting were any burden on the 25,000 monkeys who swarmed over the encampment, riding bicycles darting from behind every park bush to the terror of automobile drivers. At 17th Street & Constitution Avenue were encamped about 400 foreign Scouts, troops from Chile and Poland, a Philippine Scout who had flown from Manila, British Columbians who had bicycled 3,500 miles, two Venezuelans who had tramped for 30 months through jungles covering the entire distance to Washington on foot. About 1,000 U. S. Scouts were to sail for a world jamboree to be held this month in The Netherlands. The thousands who were to go no farther than Washington swarmed over the foreign encampment, gathering autographs from strange places.

Every morning and afternoon there were optional sightseeing expeditions! to the Capitol, Mt. Vernon, Arlington etc. etc. Scouts swarmed through Washington buying films for their perpetual photographing. On six nights there were "arena displays' given at the foot of the Washington Monument by Scouts of two regions (there are twelve in the U. S.). One afternoon there was a Sea Scout regatta, one evening a fireworks display. But more fascinating than spectacles, drills or speeches by oldsters about Scout ideals was the extra-curricular activity in which all 25,000 assiduously engaged—swapping.

To Washington they had brought a strange assortment of impedimenta: wampum, pine cones, stuffed birds sharks teeth, shells, sponges, live hoot owls pickled scorpions. Texans (dressed in chaps) brought a large consignment of live horned toads. West Virginians brought hunks of coal shellacked for paperweights. Californians brought 20-ft strips of movie film. With these trade goods, the young merchants wandered around, to the wooden fence near the camp of the Bahamians, the barbed wire fence of the Texans, the Paul Bunyan display of the Wisconsin Scouts, the Florida encampment hung with Spanish moss. All day, every day the tent cities echoed with the wrangling of Young America trading what it possessed for something else it wanted.

The Jamboree cost upwards of $600,000. All the U. S. Government and the city of Washington provided was the land used the loan of Army tents and similar equipment. Traveling and living expenses were met by the Scouts, each one present contributing $25 (besides his railroad fare) which he, at least in theory, earned.

Boy Scout cheerfulness was put to the test this week by a downpour that lasted all Sunday night and half the next day turning much of the camp area into quagmire. Undismayed, 5,000 selected Scouts marched to a memorial service in the Arlington National Cemetery theatre placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Governmental high spot of the jamboree came later this week with President Roosevelt's review. Instead of waiting while the 25,000 passed him, the President was to drive down Constitution Avenue, lined for two miles by cheering Boy Scouts.


link-1937-nj1.jpg (2557 bytes) Home Page of the 1st National Jamboree
link-1937-nj1.jpg (2557 bytes) 1st National Jamboree
Jamboree Photo Gallery
Maps, Aerial Views and Photos
link-1937-nj1.jpg (2557 bytes) "Scouts National Jamboree" Cover story from Time Magazine, July 12, 1937.
1937-wj5-small-cloth-badge.jpg (2917 bytes) Shortly after the close of the 1st National Jamboree in Washington, 1000 Scouts and leaders travelled to Holland to represent the Boy Scouts of America at the 5th World Jamboree at Vogelenzang in the Netherlands.
thumb-jambo-1937-gallery.gif (2232 bytes) Baden-Powell Photo Gallery
Baden-Powell at the World Jamborees
Links to the World Jamborees, 1920-1937
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Last Modified: 7:47 AM on September 19, 1998