Remembering John F. Kennedy, the first president to have been a Boy Scout

When he was 12 years old, John F. Kennedy asked for a raise.

The year was 1929, and Kennedy was a new member of Troop 2 in Bronxville, N.Y. Now that he had reached Scout age, Kennedy reasoned, it was time for his allowance to match his new Boy Scout-level maturity.

With that in mind, he penned this letter to his father:

My recent allowance is 40 cents. This I used for aeroplanes and other playthings of childhood, but now I am a Scout and I put away my childish things. Before I would spend 20 cents of my 40 cents allowance, and in five minutes I would have empty pockets and nothing to gain and 20 cents to lose.

When I am a Scout I have to buy canteens, haversacks, blankets, searchlights, a poncho — things that will last for years and I can always use while I can’t use chocolate marshmallow sundae ice cream, and so I put in my plea for a raise of 30 cents for me to buy Scout things and pay my own way around …

Kennedy dreamed differently throughout his life, and this letter proves that his uniqueness started as a Scout. In fact, he was the first president to have been a Boy Scout. And like all presidents from William Howard Taft to Barack Obama, he served as Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America.

And so on the anniversary of his death, let’s look back on the life of the man who led our nation and was a strong advocate for Scouting. Find Scouting-related photos, the condolence telegram the BSA sent Jacqueline Kennedy and much more after the jump.

Condolence telegram from BSA to Jacqueline Kennedy

In late 1963, BSA President Ellsworth H. Augustus and Chief Scout Executive Joseph A. Brunton Jr. wrote this telegram to Jacqueline Kennedy:

The hearts of five and a half million Scouts and Scouters are saddened by the tragic death of their nation’s leader and their Honorary President. Throughout his life he carried out the Oath he took as a Boy Scout — on his honor to do his best to do his duty to God and his country. The strength and vigor of his leadership … will always be an inspiration to Scout leaders and boys alike as we strive to build for the future on the heritage for which President Kennedy gave his all.

Kennedy’s remarks to Scouts and Explorers in 1961

During a White House visit by Scouts and Explorers in 1961 (pictured at right), Kennedy shared how Scouts “learn the qualities of perseverance … you come to understand something about nature and something about our country.”

“After years of observation,” he continued, “I really believe that the experience you have … is the best possible training you can have to equip you for later life.”

“What you are doing now will prepare you to play a significant and responsible role in maintaining the freedom of the United States.”

Kennedy praises Scouting in 1962

A year after those warm words for Scouts at his presidential office, Kennedy told Scouting’s “Family of the Year” that “I strongly believe in Scouting. … It’s a source of great strength to us. I’m very appreciative to all the adults who give leadership.”

And this tremendous line that should be repeated today: “I would recommend [Scouting] to sons and daughters of every American family.”

Scouting magazine’s February 1964 issue

These quotes came from Scouting magazine’s February 1964 issue, the full scan of which you can see here (click to enlarge).

Speaking of, all of Scouting magazine’s back issues are available for you to browse in our app. Just search “Scouting magazine” in the App Store of your choice. 

About Bryan Wendell 2817 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.