Century-old printing presses breathe new life into Graphic Arts merit badge

With our modern fixation on shiny new technology, it’s refreshing to see Scouts get excited about something from the predigital age.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Lancaster, Pa., where one Scouter has channeled his passion for Gutenberg-style printing into a volunteer Scouting role.

In 2009, Ken Kulakowsky, who has been involved with Scouting since he was a Cub Scout in 1957, began hosting Graphic Arts merit badge workshops. Using technology invented in 1440 on printing presses built 100 years ago, Scouts earn one of the BSA’s least-earned merit badges.

Kulakowsky’s original Graphic Arts merit badge workshop saw 15 Scouts in attendance. Now he hosts five workshops a year with 26 Scouts at each one. There’s a waiting list of 50 Scouts; demand exceeds the amount of space inside the printing lab.

And it’s not just Scouts from the Pennsylvania Dutch Council who show up. Scouts have attended from as far north as Albany, N.Y., and Centerbrook, Conn. They have come from Fayetteville, N.C., in the South and Pittsburgh in the West.

What Scouts get to do

  • Design a memo pad and print it using the letterpress process developed by Gutenberg in the 15th century
  • Screen-print a specially designed T-shirt
  • See firsthand the offset printing process and take home a BSA Scout Law memo pad
  • Tour the Graphic Communications labs of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology — Pennsylvania’s top-rated technical college
  • Converse with a group of dedicated .918 Club volunteers who do everything possible to help the Scouts succeed

There are still two more workshops in 2017. Learn more here.

How rare is Graphic Arts MB?

In 2016, Graphic Arts ranked in the bottom 15 percent of all merit badges based on popularity (107th out of 137). Just 3,251 Boy Scouts earned the merit badge last year.