This PBS doc on a 1920s-era Eagle Scout is must-see TV

Paul Siple just might be one of the most significant Eagle Scouts from the early decades of the organization.

The producers of Chronicles, a PBS docuseries from WQLN in Erie, Pennsylvania, apparently agree.

Their 28-minute show on Siple (embedded below) documents his six Antarctic expeditions, including the first in 1928, when at the age of 19 he was chosen to represent the Boy Scouts of America and accompany famed explorer Admiral Richard Byrd to the South Pole.

In all, Siple (pronounced SIGH-pull) accompanied Byrd on five expeditions. The Sea Scout, Silver Buffalo Award recipient and Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow went on to write four books and coin the term “wind chill.”

In fact, it was one of those books that inspired Glenn Adams, then the president of the National Eagle Scout Association, to start a program that would get more Scouts out into the world as explorers. That program became the NESA World Explorers.

It’s not a stretch to argue that Siple’s legacy paved the way for the Exploration merit badge, launched in 2017.

Minus 100 degrees

Siple appeared on the cover of the December 31, 1956, issue of Time magazine

The PBS show opens with some remarkable footage from one of Siple’s later expeditions to Antarctica.

“We’re proud of having been able to carry out the program because temperatures went down below minus 100,” says a bearded Siple on location on the Antarctic ice. “In fact, for the last 160 days the temperature has never once been above minus 40 degrees.”

The documentary pays a lot of attention to Siple’s time as a youth in Scouting, noting that he joined Troop 24 in Erie and earned the rank of Eagle Scout at age 15, “achievements that would have a profound impact on his life,” the narrator says.

The show also includes an interview with Dan Ste. Marie, a current volunteer from the French Creek Council.

“Paul Siple … had a thirst for knowledge of the natural world,” says Ste. Marie. “He went out and earned all of these merit badges, discovering the world around himself. He had a thirst for adventure.”

An OA DSA recipient

In 1958, the Order of the Arrow awarded Siple its Distinguished Service Award. The certificate read in part:

Explorer, Geographer, Eagle Scout, Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow, member of Alpha Phi Omega Scouting Fraternity, member of the National Committee on Camping and member of the National Court of Honor. Accompanied Admiral Richard Byrd on the first Antarctic Expedition, after selection as the outstanding Scout among 600,000 then enrolled.

This being the first of many exploits and assignments as a civilian and commissioned officer in the United States Army. He was the first President of the American Polar Society, and more recently served as scientific leader of the United States participation in the Geophysical Year. Presently he is Director of the Army’s office of Polar Affairs. Through his achievements and personal life he has brought distinction to the organization with which he has affiliated and captured the imagination and admiration of youth throughout the land.

Click here to learn more about Siple, and watch the PBS show below.

Thanks to reader Michael Malone (who knows a thing or two about Eagle Scouts himself) for the story tip.

Scouting America photo

About Aaron Derr 468 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.