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BSA’s Eagle Requirements since 1911

I borrowed this from Troop 97, they wrote a piece on the Eagle Award and Rank along with the history of it. Some information is not aligning with some from the BSA site but overall is very close.

Eagle Scout Requirements

A Comparison of the BSA’s Eagle Requirements since 1911

Eagle Scout is just about the most significant accomplishment an American youth can earn. The award has value in adult society because of the example and success of past Eagles in adult life. Since the first Eagle in 1912, more than two-million boys (and men) have earned Eagle Scout (and the first female Eagles were earned in mid-2020).

Here are the requirements for the BSA’s highest rank since its creation in 1911. By my count, there have been about a dozen different sets of requirements, though changes were sometimes minimal, and BSA has been fiddling with the requirements regularly in recent years. A Scout could begin advancement toward Eagle at age 12 until 1949, age 11 until 1972, about age 10-1/2 since. Until 1952, not only boys but also adult men could earn Eagle; since then the opportunity to earn the award stops at age 18 [although a number of Councils continued to allow adults to earn Eagle after 1952, until BSA firmly ended the option in 1965]. The Eagle award was opened to Scout-age girls in February 2019.

Note that neither leadership nor service were directly required until almost 50 years after Scouting’s founding [although leadership was implicit in the requirement to be active]. A 1915 Boys Life magazine issue describes the Eagle award as “the highest honor given for winning Merit Badges.” Although leadership may have been expected, it was not mentioned in connection with earning Eagle until the 1927 Handbook, and then only indirectly until 1958 when the Eagle candidate must “work actively as a leader in meetings, outdoor activities, and service projects of your unit”. Only in 1965 was specific leadership required.

Of the original 1911 requirements, Eagle Scouts today still have to earn First Class, and still have to earn a total of 21 merit badges. Of the original Eagle required list of 11 badges from 1914, today’s Eagles must still earn Camping, Cooking, and First Aid (and today’s Personal Fitness is a direct successor to Personal Health). Lifesaving is still on the Eagle list, but has been optional since 1972.

1910

The BSA comes into existence. Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton issues a temporary Handbook, which lists Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class as “Scouts’ Badges”. It additionally lists 14 “Badges of Merit” which can be earned only by First-Class Scouts and Scoutmasters. Also listed under “Badges of Merit” is the “Silver Wolf” (referred to as a “special badge and title”), granted to any Scout who earns all 14 badges of merit. No picture is shown of the Silver Wolf design, and it appears from BSA records that no Silver Wolf was ever awarded.

1911 Eagle Requirements

The BSA adds three higher awards for earning merit badges beyond First Class: Life, Star, and Eagle (Star was switched before Life in 1925, apparently because the five points of the Star could symbolize the five merit badges then required for the badge). Neither Life nor Star is required for Eagle (a Scouting magazine article [May-June 2003] indicated that 8 of the first 9 Eagle Scouts [including the BSA’s first Eagle] did not earn either Life or Star ranks). The 1911 Scout Handbook refers to Eagle Scout as “the highest scout merit badge”, and Eagle Scout is listed in the index specifically as a merit badge. Note that throughout the Second Handbook Edition (through 1927), what we now call ranks were referred to as badges or awards.

  • Earn First Class
  • Earn any 21 merit badges

1912—Arthur Eldred becomes the first Eagle Scout.

1914 Eagle Requirements

[created an Eagle required list of 11 badges by adding 6 badges to the 5 formerly required for Life]

  • Earn First Class
  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 11:
    First Aid
    Physical Development
    Lifesaving
    Personal Health
    Public Health
    Cooking
    Camping
    Bird Study
    Pathfinding
    Pioneering
    Athletics

1915 Eagle Requirements

[made Physical Development optional along with Athletics; added Civics]

  • Earn First Class
  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 11:
    First Aid
    Lifesaving
    Personal Health
    Public Health
    Cooking
    Camping
    Civics
    Bird Study
    Pathfinding
    Pioneering
    Athletics OR Physical Development

1927 Eagle Requirements

[required 1 year active service as First Class Scout; for the first time, refers to Eagle Scout as a rank rather than a badge]

  • Be active as a First Class Scout for at least 1 year
  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 12:
    First Aid
    Lifesaving (Swimming now a required prerequisite for Lifesaving, at least since 1922)
    Personal Health
    Public Health
    Cooking
    Camping
    Civics
    Bird Study
    Pathfinding
    Pioneering
    Athletics OR Physical Development

1936 Eagle Requirements

[for the first time, required earning Star and Life ranks; added Safety]

  • Be active as a Life Scout for at least 6 months
  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 13:
    First Aid
    Lifesaving (Swimming also a required prerequisite for Lifesaving)
    Personal Health
    Public Health
    Cooking
    Camping
    Civics
    Bird Study
    Pathfinding
    Safety
    Pioneering
    Athletics OR Physical Development

In 1952, maximum age set at 18; before that there was no maximum age at which a boy or man could earn Eagle. Note that some Councils continued to allow men to earn Eagle until BSA firmly ended the option in 1965.

1958 Eagle Requirements

[now it gets complicated—a maze of merit badge options adding up to 16 required badges (from a list of 65 badge choices!) and 5 other badges; plus the first requirement to provide leadership and give service]

  • Do your best to live up to the Scout Promise, Law, Motto, and Slogan
  • Be active as a Life Scout for at least 6 months
  • While a Life Scout, work actively as a leader in meetings, outdoor activities, and service projects of your unit
  • While a Life Scout, do your best to help in your home, school, church, and community
  • While a Life Scout, take care of things that belong to you and respect the property of others
  • Earn 21 merit badges, including a total of 16 as follows:
    1 badge from the CONSERVATION group (Forestry, Soil and Water Conservation, Wildlife Management)
    3 badges from the CITIZENSHIP group (Citizenship in the Home, Cit. in the Community, Cit. in the Nation, World Brotherhood)
    Camping
    Cooking
    Swimming
    Lifesaving
    Nature
    Personal Fitness
    Public Health
    Safety
    Firemanship
    First Aid
    1 badge from the OUTDOOR SPORTS group (Archery, Athletics, Cycling, Fishing, Hiking, Horsemanship, Marksmanship, Skiing)
    1 badge from any of the following groups: ANIMAL HUSBANDRY, PLANT CULTIVATION, COMMUNICATION, TRANSPORTATION, BUILDING (40 badges to choose from)

1965—500 000 Scouts have earned Eagle.

1965 Eagle Requirements

[eliminated the complex merit badge list and returned to a simple list of 11 required badges; required specific leadership and a community service project]

  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 11:
    Camping
    Cooking
    Citizenship in the Community
    Citizenship in the Nation
    Nature
    Soil and Water Conservation
    Personal Fitness
    First Aid
    Swimming
    Lifesaving
    Safety
  • While a Life Scout, serve actively for 6 months as a troop warrant officer [patrol leader, senior patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, junior assistant scoutmaster, instructor, scribe, quartermaster, librarian, den chief]
  • While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and carry out a service project helpful to your church or synagogue, school, or community
  • Take part in a Scoutmaster Conference (includes living up to Scout Promise, Law, Motto, and Slogan)

1970 Eagle Requirements

[alphabetized the required list of badges; Conservation of Natural Resources replaced Soil and Water Conservation]

  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 11:
    Camping
    Citizenship in the Community
    Citizenship in the Nation
    Conservation of Natural Resources
    Cooking
    First Aid
    Lifesaving
    Nature
    Personal Fitness
    Safety
    Swimming
  • While a Life Scout, serve actively for 6 months as a troop warrant officer [patrol leader, senior patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, junior assistant scoutmaster, instructor, scribe, quartermaster, librarian, den chief]
  • While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and carry out a service project helpful to your church or synagogue, school, or community
  • Take part in a Scoutmaster Conference (includes living up to Scout Promise, Law, Motto, and Slogan)

1972 Eagle Requirements

[increased total badges required to 24, reflecting the new requirement to earn 5 merit badges for First Class; dropped Camping, Cooking, Nature; renamed/updated Conservation of Natural Resources as Environmental Science; added Citizenship in the World (formerly World Brotherhood), Communications, Personal Management (formerly Personal Finances), and optional Emergency Preparedness and Sports; made Swimming, Lifesaving, and Personal Fitness optional; for the first time, permitted a Scout to earn Eagle without knowing how to swim and without having any particular outdoor or camping experience; troop offices now referred to simply as a “position” rather than as “leadership”]

  • Be active as a Life Scout for at least 6 months
  • Show Scout spirit
  • Earn 24 merit badges, including the following 10:
    First Aid
    Citizenship in the Community
    Citizenship in the Nation
    Citizenship in the World
    Communications
    Safety
    Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving
    Environmental Science
    Personal Management
    Personal Fitness OR Swimming OR Sports
  • While a Life Scout, serve actively for 6 months in one of the following positions [patrol leader, junior assistant scoutmaster, scribe, den chief, quartermaster, librarian, member of the leadership corps, senior patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, or instructor]
  • While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and carry out a service project helpful to your religious institution, school, or town
  • Take part in a Personal Growth Agreement Conference (Scoutmaster Conference)

1976 Eagle Requirements

[only change was to restore Camping to the required list]

1978 Eagle Requirements

[reduced the Eagle total back to 21 merit badges]

  • Be active as a Life Scout for at least 6 months
  • Show Scout spirit
  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 12:
    First Aid
    Citizenship in the Community
    Citizenship in the Nation
    Citizenship in the World
    Communications
    Safety
    Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving
    Environmental Science
    Personal Management
    Personal Fitness OR Swimming OR Sports
    Camping
  • While a Life Scout, serve actively for 6 months in one or more of the following positions (later called positions of responsibility) [patrol leader, senior patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, den chief, scribe, librarian, quartermaster, member of the leadership corps, junior assistant scoutmaster, instructor (later added chaplain aide and troop guide, and dropped leadership corps)]
  • While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community
  • Take part in a Personal Growth Agreement Conference (renamed back to Scoutmaster Conference in the early 1980s)

1982—1 million Scouts have earned Eagle.

1994 Eagle Requirements

[only change was to add recently created Family Life merit badge to the required list]

1999 Eagle Requirements

[made Personal Fitness mandatory for the first time since 1972; dropped Safety and Sports as Eagle badges; added Hiking and Cycling as optional Eagle badges]

  • Be active as a Life Scout for at least 6 months
  • Show Scout spirit
  • Earn 21 merit badges, including the following 12:
    First Aid
    Citizenship in the Community
    Citizenship in the Nation
    Citizenship in the World
    Communications
    Personal Fitness
    Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving
    Environmental Science
    Personal Management
    Swimming OR Hiking OR Cycling
    Camping
    Family Life
  • While a Life Scout, serve actively for 6 months in one or more of the following positions of responsibility [assistant senior patrol leader, chaplain aide, den chief, historian, instructor, junior assistant scoutmaster, librarian, patrol leader, quartermaster, scribe, senior patrol leader, troop guide (Order of the Arrow troop representative added later)]
  • While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community
  • Take part in a Scoutmaster Conference
  • Successfully complete an Eagle Scout board of review (added later)

2009—2 million Scouts have earned Eagle.

2009 Eagle Requirements

[very minor adjustments to Scout Spirit requirement (spelling out the requirement for references), to the “positions of responsibility” list (Venture patrol leader, webmaster, Leave No Trace instructor), and an expanded description of the service project process]

  • Be active in your troop, team, crew, or ship for a period of at least six months after you have achieved the rank of Life Scout.
  • Demonstrate that you live by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life. List the names of individuals who know you personally and would be willing to provide a recommendation on your behalf, including parents/guardians, religious, educational, and employer references.
  • Earn a total of 21 merit badges (10 more than you already have), including the following 12 [13 as of 1/1/2014; 14 as of 7/1/2022]:
    First Aid
    Citizenship in Society (to become required starting 7/1/2022)
    Citizenship in the Community
    Citizenship in the Nation
    Citizenship in the World
    Communication(s)*
    Cooking (added effective 1/1/2014)
    Personal Fitness
    Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving
    Environmental Science OR Sustainability (added as option in 8/2013)
    Personal Management
    Swimming OR Hiking OR Cycling
    Camping
    Family Life
  • While a Life Scout, serve actively for a period of six months in one or more of the following positions of responsibility [assistant senior patrol leader, chaplain aide, den chief, historian, instructor, junior assistant scoutmaster, librarian, Order of the Arrow troop representative, patrol leader, quartermaster, scribe, senior patrol leader, troop guide, Venture patrol leader (job eliminated in 2016), troop webmaster, or Leave No Trace instructor (title changed to outdoor ethics guide in 2016)—Note that bugler was incorrectly listed in the 12th Edition of the Scout Handbook, and that the new positions of webmaster and LNT instructor were incorrectly omitted from the Eagle list.]
  • While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community. (The project should benefit an organization other than Scouting.) The project plan must be approved by the organization benefiting from the effort, your Scoutmaster and troop committee, and the council or district before you start. You must use the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project Workbook, No. 512-927, in meeting this requirement.
  • Take part in a Scoutmaster Conference.
  • Successfully complete an Eagle Scout board of review.

*—So is it ‘Communication’ or ‘Communications’ merit badge? BSA just can’t decide. All the Scout Handbooks through the 12th Edition call it ‘Communications’. But the annual Boy Scout Requirements book has been calling it ‘Communication’ since 2010, and the 13th and 14th Editions of the Scout Handbook also call it ‘Communication’. So looks like ‘Communication’ wins.

2013 Eagle Requirements

[only change was to add new badge Sustainability (8/2013) to the required list as an optional alternative to Environmental Science]

2014 Eagle Requirements

[only change was to add Cooking (1/1/2014, with revamped requirements); first time on required list since 1972]

2016 Eagle Requirements

[minor adjustments to Scout Spirit, Position of Responsibility, and Eagle Service Project requirements, effective 1/1/2016]

  • Scout Spirit—added “duty to God” requirement plus details about letters of recommendation
  • Position of Responsibility—deleted Venture patrol leader and replaced Leave No Trace trainer with “outdoor ethics guide”
  • Eagle Service Project—further expanded details about service project requirements

2022 Eagle Requirements

[only change was to add recently created Citizenship in Society merit badge to the required list, effective 7/1/2022 (badge released on 11/1/2021)]


Female Eagle Scouts

As of February 2019, the BSA for the first time now allows girls who are Scouts, Venturers, or Sea Scouts to earn the Eagle Scout award, and the first female Eagles earned the award in mid-2020. Requirements to earn Eagle are the same for young men & young women. The BSA has tried to circumvent the predictable race to claim to be the first female Eagle Scout by collectively recognizing all 2020 female Eagles as members of the first year’s ‘class’ of female Eagles.


What percentage of Scouts become Eagles?
Although 3% to 6% is often tossed around, since BSA records show there have been about 2.6 million Eagles, and something around 115 million Scouts, that works out to about 2.3% who have earned Eagle since 1912. BSA indicates that 6.01% earned Eagle in 2015, and as can be seen from the numbers below, the rate of earning Eagle has been ramping up. For example, it took 53 years for the first 500 000 Eagles (just over 9400/year average), but only 20 years for the next 500 000 (25 000/year average). And then it took just 27 years for the next million Eagles (just over 37 000/year). Lately, the number has been over 50 000/year.

Why has the annual number of Eagle Scouts been increasing when there are fewer Scouts than there used to be?
Or to put it another way: Is earning Eagle easier than it used to be?

OK, that’s a loaded question, and one that’s been heartily debated since well before today’s Eagles were born. I think there is one specific requirement that has significantly increased the challenge of earning Eagle, and several changes that have made earning Eagle easier:

How Eagle has gotten more challenging—

  • Service Project—This is the biggest change in the Eagle requirements since 1911. While the requirements sometimes expected an Eagle to be involved in service projects (not necessarily leading them), it was only in 1965 that the requirement to “plan, develop, and carry out a service project helpful to your church or synagogue, school, or community” began. I’d say that many Eagles learn more leadership in carrying out their project than they do in fulfilling their ‘position of responsibility’. And since the early 2000’s, BSA has continually expanded the amount of paperwork the Eagle candidate must complete, with an ever-increasing demand for following a rigid procedure that in many cases has made the paperwork part of the project more challenging than planning and carrying out the actual project (the current mandatory Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook is now 32 pages long [6 pages longer than the last revision]).

How Eagle has gotten easier—

  • Swimming & Lifesaving merit badges—Lifesaving was required for all Eagles from 1914 until 1972, and Swimming was required from at least 1922 until 1972. Since 1972 both merit badges have been optional, with alternative choices for those who didn’t want to do the aquatic requirements. I would guess that, prior to 1972, Lifesaving probably stopped more Scouts from earning Eagle than any other merit badge. Undoubtedly making Swimming and Lifesaving optional has increased the number of Eagles since 1972.
  • Leadership—Although there was no specific leadership requirement before 1958, early Eagles were expected to BE leaders. Emphasis on LEADERSHIP. Starting in 1965, Eagles were required to serve actively as a “troop warrant officer”, then from 1972 in a “position”, then from 1999 in a “position of responsibility”. Note the reduced emphasis on leadership, and the switch to carrying out a job. And many of these positions do not require the Eagle to give leadership to others.
  • More Encouragement from Adults—I believe that Scouts, parents, and Scout leaders have become more aware of the value of becoming an Eagle Scout, and that the adults encourage earning Eagle much more than was once the case.
  • Affluent Society—Since about 1950, American society has become much more affluent. Scouting has become more affordable for a larger percentage of Americans, and Scout-age kids have more leisure time than previous generations (even if more time is devoted to electronic devices and organized sports).
  • Online Access to Information—Those born after the early 1980’s have no concept of what it used to take to find information. Today, merit badge information, pamphlets, worksheets, photos, videos,… are available in a matter of seconds.

Of course, your opinions may vary….

From 1912 through the end of 2019, 2 598 986 Eagle awards were earned.

  • 1940 was the first year when more than 10 000 Eagle awards were earned.
  • 1960 was the first year when more than 20 000 Eagle awards were earned.
  • 1967 was the first year when more than 30 000 Eagle awards were earned.
  • 1973 was the first year when more than 40 000 Eagle awards were earned (46 966). This was actually an anomaly, resulting from the ‘rush’ by many Scouts to finish their Eagle early due to the massive impending advancement changes announced in 1972 (Scouts had until the end of 1973 to finish under the old requirements). In 1975, the number of Eagles fell to less than half of 1973’s total (21 285).
  • 1997 was the next year when more than 40 000 Eagle awards were earned.
  • 2004 was the first year when more than 50 000 Eagle awards were earned.
  • 2019 was the first year when more than 60 000 Eagle awards were earned.

Here is a chart (courtesy of the Scouting magazine blog) showing the number of Eagle awards earned each year from 1912 through 2017:

Number of Eagles per Year

Since the 55 494 Eagles in 2017, the number dropped slightly to 52 160 in 2018, and set a new all-time record of 61 353 in 2019. I’m guessing this may be due to a large number of LDS Scouts finishing Eagle before the LDS church dropped church sponsorship of troops at the end of 2019. So we’ll see what happens over the next couple of years, with most LDS youth no longer in Scouting (though some will choose to continue with non-LDS troops), and with girls now able to earn Eagle (the first ones finished in 2020).

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