Fascinating new details about BSA’s first Eagle Scout, Arthur Eldred

From left: Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden-Powell and Daniel Carter Beard on Jan. 31, 1912 — the day Arthur Eldred (inset) had his board of review at BSA headquarters.

When Boys’ Life announced in its May 1912 issue that Arthur R. Eldred had become the first Eagle Scout in history, the magazine piled on praise.

“He is a sturdy, well-built, keen-eyed little fellow, and his Scoutmaster commends him highly,” BL wrote. “Among the activities in which Eldred has shown himself proficient are handicraft, poultry farming, horsemanship, dairying, bicycling, cooking, chemistry, electricity, gardening, pathfinding and swimming.”

Much is known about Eldred’s Scouting success. We know, for example, that when Eldred became an Eagle Scout he was one of just 50 boys to have earned at least a single merit badge. (He earned 21 to get Eagle.)

But we don’t know much about Eldred’s board of review — that final step to Eagle. We don’t know who else was in the room where it happened. Or where that room was. Or the date Eldred officially earned Scouting’s highest honor.

Actually, that’s no longer true. We didn’t know those details, but we do now, thanks to some super sleuthing from David C. Scott, author and longtime Scouting volunteer.

Scott shares more in this guest post, below.

Newly uncovered details shine light on Eldred’s Eagle

By David C. Scott, author of The Scouting Party and My Fellow Americans.

Some mysteries take more than a century to solve.

This one began in April 1912 when newspapers across the country announced that Arthur Rose Eldred of Rockville Centre, N.Y., had become America’s first Eagle Scout.

To get there, Eldred, a 17-year-old member of Troop 1, had to pass a board of review for the ages. The adults on his board included Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton, National Scout Commissioner Daniel Carter Beard, Chief Scout Executive James E. West and Red Cross lifesaving pioneer Wilbert E. Longfellow. They made up the National Court of Honor.

Since Eldred’s rise to Scouting’s top honor was so swift, had to wait for his Eagle Scout medal to be manufactured. He received it five months later — September 1912.

So, what’s the mystery?

For decades, some details and dates surrounding Eldred’s Eagle board of review have been unknown or merely assumed.

That changed in June 2017 when I published some newly uncovered findings in the International Scouting Collectors Association’s Journal.

In it, I provide the long-lost details behind the Eldred Eagle story that I culled from an obscure Burlington, Vt., newspaper article. It provides his official board of review date (Jan. 31, 1912) and confirms its location (BSA headquarters, which was then in New York City).

Furthermore, it provides a list of attendees that we now know includes the worldwide founder of Scouting himself: Robert Baden-Powell.

We also know that B-P was “delighted” when Eldred successfully made fire without matches. But why was this Scouting legend there at all?

Baden-Powell had arrived in New York harbor only hours before to begin the North America sector of his round-the-world Scouting inspection tour. He was greeted aboard his ship by Chief Scout Executive West and a young Scout, William Waller, who presented the general with a letter of welcome from U.S. President William H. Taft.

Afterward, Baden-Powell headed down the gangplank toward a line of sharply dressed Scouts and their leaders that included Eldred and his troop. Baden-Powell’s personal diary, currently held in the National Scouting Museum, reveals that he spent time at Boy Scout headquarters that day.

Additional details in the news item confirm that the vote to present Eldred with the Eagle award was not made that day. Eldred would have to wait.

This was the first significant rank advancement decision the National Court of Honor would ever make, so they deliberated for a month before they voted. Courtesy of an obscure letter discovered in the Minnesota Historical Archive by Scout Executive John Andrews and forwarded to noted Eagle Scout historian Terry Grove, we now know the date of that vote.

This letter, authored by BSA Field Secretary H.E. Schaffer, states for the official record that Arthur Eldred was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout on March 29, 1912. Now we have a clear picture behind the awarding of Scouting’s first Eagle.

Dates to know

  • Jan. 31, 1912: Eldred sits for his board of review, which included key founders of American Scouting plus worldwide Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell.
  • March 29, 1912: The National Court of Honor votes to award Eldred the rank of Eagle Scout.
  • April 1912: Scouting officials issue a news release to the national wire services announcing Eldred’s landmark achievement.
  • Sept. 2 1912: Eldred receives the nation’s first Eagle Scout medal at a local ceremony.