Bryan on Scouting

A complete history of presidential visits at National Jamborees

Visits from the president are a Jamboree tradition.

Seven of 11 sitting U.S. presidents who were in office at the time of a National Jamboree showed up in person to address giant crowds of Scouts.

It’s a tradition that dates back to the very first Jamboree. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the 1937 National Jamboree in grand style. He posed for photographs, awarded an Eagle badge and had his touring car swarmed by well-wishing Scouts.

Since then, many sitting presidents have stopped by the National Jamboree, arriving by car, train or helicopter to meet Scouts and share their thoughts about Scouting.

Here are those stories.

1937 National Jamboree: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Roosevelt was fully prepared to visit the 1935 National Jamboree, but it was canceled because of a polio outbreak.

“The best-laid plans,” Roosevelt said in a radio address on what would’ve been the Jamboree’s first day, “sometimes go awry.”

Two years later, Roosevelt made up for lost time.

He took 12 Eagle Scouts to the MLB All-Star Game. He visited Scouts from Duchess County, N.Y., who had constructed a large replica of the Roosevelt family’s Hyde Park home. He spoke with leaders, examined handicrafts and posed for countless photos.

As he drove away, Scouts swarmed his car for one last look.

1950 National Jamboree: Harry S. Truman

President Truman addressed nearly 50,000 Scouts at 9:05 a.m. on June 30, 1950, at Valley Forge, Pa.

Fresh off World War II, with the country’s wounds still healing, Truman challenged Scouts to continue that march toward world peace.

Living and camping and understanding people from other countries, he said, “is the first step toward settling world problems in a spirit of give and take, instead of fighting about them.”

Read Truman’s complete remarks here.

1953 National Jamboree: Dwight D. Eisenhower (by video) and Richard Nixon

President Eisenhower wasn’t able to visit the 1953 Jamboree in Irvine Ranch, Calif., but he did record a video address for Scouts to watch on the last night.

“Of course, the Boy Scout movement continues to make progress,” he said. “It yearly enriches our nation, and contributes generously to the economic, physical and spiritual resources of the country.”

Read text of the address here.

Also during the seven-day event, Vice President Richard Nixon ate pancakes with his hometown troop and addressed Scouts at an afternoon convocation.

1957 National Jamboree: Nixon

The Jamboree moved back to Valley Forge in 1957, and Eisenhower again was unable to visit, this time because he was ill.

Vice President Nixon stepped in to address the Scouts once more. This time, Nixon was mistakenly introduced as President Nixon. The crowd murmured for a few moments before Nixon announced that he was merely pinch hitting for Eisenhower — not replacing him.

Later in the Jamboree, Nixon ate dinner with a troop from California.

1960 National Jamboree: Eisenhower

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the BSA, the 1960 National Jamboree welcomed more than 50,000 Scouts to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

It also welcomed Eisenhower, who spoke to Scouts before an impressive fireworks show closed the night.

1964 National Jamboree: Lyndon B. Johnson

On July 23, 1964, at Valley Forge, President Johnson challenged Scouts to remember that the future of the country is in their hands.

“In 50 years there will be 400 million Americans instead of 190 million Americans,” he said, overestimating by about 81 million. “Man will have reached into outer space and probed the inner secrets of human life. And some of you will take those journeys.”

Read the full text of his speech here.

1985 National Jamboree: First Lady Nancy Reagan

Reagan had been scheduled to appear to deliver remarks, but he was still recovering from cancer surgery. His wife, Nancy, appeared instead.

Nancy Reagan, speaking at the closing show, told the Scouts that they are “what is most positive about America’s young people today.”

But using drugs, she said, can derail a young person’s life.

“No one can use drugs and remain a true Boy Scout,” she said. “Drug-free is the best way and the only way to live. Boy Scouts can help save their generation from drugs.”

1989 National Jamboree: George H.W. Bush

President Bush spoke at 10:44 a.m. on Aug. 7, 1989, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.

After flying in on the Marine One helicopter, Bush praised Scouting’s role in battling “the five unacceptables: illiteracy, unemployment, child abuse, drug abuse and hunger.”

On confronting America’s drug problem, Bush congratulated the BSA for assuming a leadership role in the fight.

“You are teaching self-protection strategies against drugs and other dangers, and you’ve circulated these strategies in direct language in a very successful pamphlet called ‘Drugs: A Deadly Game,'” he said.

Read the full text of his speech here.

1997 National Jamboree: Clinton

Clinton spoke at 8:05 p.m. July 30, 1997, at Fort A.P. Hill.

He began by discussing his time in Scouting as a Cub Scout in Hot Springs, Ark. He was a member of Pack 1, which met at Ramble Elementary School, part of the Ouachita Area Council, he said. (The council is now known as the Quapaw Area Council.)

Next, he challenged Scouts to continue their tradition of service and Good Turns for others.

“All of you here, each in your own way, are future leaders of this country,” he said. “When you return home from the jamboree, please encourage your classmates and your friends to join you in committing to community service.”

Read the full text of the speech here.

2001 National Jamboree: George W. Bush (by video)

President Bush was scheduled to appear in person, but approaching thunderstorms forced him to cancel. He sent a video message, aired on July 30, 2001, instead.

In those remarks, which you can read here, Bush praised Scoutmasters “who set a good example and help Scouts learn the values that give direction to their lives.”

2005 National Jamboree: Bush

After another weather-related delay pushed back his scheduled appearance date, Bush finally made it to the Jamboree. He spoke at 7:19 p.m. on July 31, 2005, at Fort A.P. Hill.

Bush shared how Scouts, by following the Scout Law, can rise above the negativity of the world.

“In the years ahead you will find that indifferent or cynical people accomplish little that makes them proud,” he said. “You’ll find that confronting injustice and evil requires a vision of goodness and truth. You’ll find that many in your community, especially those younger than you, look to you as an example of conduct and leadership.”

Read the full text of the speech here, or watch below.

2010 National Jamboree: Barack Obama (by video)

President Obama was unable to appear in person, but he did share a taped message that aired during a stage show on July 31.

He began by congratulating the BSA on its 100th anniversary.

“For a century, Scouts just like you served your communities and your nation in ways both large and small,” he said. “Today, Scouts across the country continue the tradition of collecting food for those in need, improving our neighborhoods and reaching out to those less fortunate.”

Watch the remarks in full below.


1953 Nixon photo courtesy Orange County Archives