History of merit badges (Boy Scouts of America)

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For history regarding individual merit badges, see Merit badge (Boy Scouts of America).

The history of merit badges in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has been tracked by categorizing them into a series of merit badge types. In addition to the Boy Scouts of America, many other Scouting and Scouting-like organizations around the world, such as Pathfinders, Baden-Powell Scouts and Royal Rangers, issue merit badges or their equivalent; though they are sometimes called honors or proficiency badges. Other organizations, such as fire brigades, issue badges or awards that they refer to as merit badges, but that are in some respects different from the badges awarded by the BSA.

Merit badges have been an integral part of the Scouting program since the start of the movement in the United Kingdom on August 1, 1907. Scouting came to the United States in 1910; the BSA quickly issued an initial list of just 14 merit badges, but did not produce or award them. In 1911, the BSA manufactured the first official 57 merit badges and began awarding them.[1] The number of badges available has been as high as 140 and, as of 2006, is 121.[2] Merit badge types are identifiable by the cloth and manufacturing process used to make them. The classification of badges into types came about as a way for collectors to categorize and classify their collections. Merit badge collectors often collect other Scouting memorabilia as well.

Purpose of merit badges

Merit badges exist to encourage Scouts to explore areas that interest them and to teach them valuable skills in Scoutcraft. The award of merit badges sometimes leads to careers and lifelong hobbies.[3] Scouts earn a merit badge by satisfying specified criteria; a Court of Honor is then held to present the badge. Scouts can earn badges at any point in their Scouting career, although this was not always the case — in the 1960s, Scouts first had to earn the rank of Second Class Scout before being allowed to work on and earn badges.[4] The higher ranks of Star, Life Scout and Eagle require merit badges be earned. Certain badges are mandatory to receive these higher ranks. For a few years during the 1980s and 90s, "First Aid" merit badge was a requirement for the First Class Scout rank.[5] Other mandatory badges include "Citizenship in the Community" and "Environmental Science" (see full list). The number of merit badges required for each of these higher ranks has varied historically, as has the ratio of mandatory merit badges and non-mandatory badges for those ranks.[6] As of 2005, Scouts must earn a total of 21 merit badges for the Eagle Scout rank, 12 of which must be from the mandatory list. Once Scouts attain the Eagle rank, they can earn Eagle Palms, a core requirement of which is earning more merit badges.

Badge history

The BSA changes the design, name, and availability of merit badges depending on various factors such as their popularity, shifts in the focus of the Scouting program, and changes in society.[7] Of the original 57 merit badges from 1911, only 11 are still available that also still have the same basic design motif (Architecture, Art, Athletics, Chemistry, First Aid, Lifesaving, Music, Plumbing, Public Health, Scholarship, and Surveying). Of those 11, only five were made available in each "generation" of the 10 merit badge types (these are Architecture, Art, Chemistry, Plumbing, and Public Health). The remaining six were not reproduced in a short lived "generation" of merit badges, Type I.

Examples of merit badge change due to the degree of popularity/interest in a subject include "Interpreting", which only existed from 1911-1952, when it was dropped; and "Genealogy" which was added in 1972 when great interest in that subject arose.

A good example of merit badges reflecting changes in the focus of the Scouting program is "Civics", which was originally the only citizenship-related merit badge. In 1952, the BSA placed more emphasis on this area by splitting "Civics" into four separate badges, which were in turn modified several times. Since 1991, the badges in this group are "Citizenship in the Community", "Citizenship in the Nation", "Citizenship in the World", and "Family Life", all of which are currently on the mandatory list for Eagle Scout.

The "First Aid to Animals" and "Plant Science" merit badges have both evolved due to societal changes. "First Aid to Animals" was one of the original merit badges in 1911 but was dropped because of its agricultural focus in 1972. It was resurrected as "Veterinary Science" in 1973 with a focus on small pet-type animals vs. farm animals. It was renamed "Veterinary Medicine" in 1995. Merging of merit badges can be seen in "Plant Science", into which all crop growing merit badges were merged in 1972 because America had changed from an agrarian society into and an urban/suburban society since the founding of the BSA.

Sometimes the design of or requirements for a merit badge seem to change for no apparent reason. An example of this is "Personal Health", which was an original 1911 merit badge with a heart motif. In 1952 it became "Personal Fitness". In 1969 it was redesigned, displaying a youth in gym gear doing what looks like a jumping jack exercise. Currently, the BSA is "field testing" a Hunting merit badge, but it has not yet been released on a national basis.[8]

The merit badges on the mandatory list for Eagle rank have changed several times; however, "First Aid" is the only merit badge that has always been on the mandatory list for Eagle. In 1969, the BSA began manufacturing those merit badges that are required in order to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout with a silver border vice the green border.

Types of merit badges

As of 2005 and as described in Merit Badge Field Guide,[9] there are 10 major types of merit badges: Types A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and J.

Type A

Front/Reverse (Gardening) Essential facts Description
Gardening, Type A, front
Gardening, Type A, back
Nickname: square

Years of Issue:

Background Type A merit badges were manufactured in rolls and then cut into squares approximately 2" (5 cm) square, hence its nickname square.
Front The early "Gardening" badge shown here is often confused with "Corn Farming", which had three corn husks. Creases were created when these square badges were folded under by hand before being sewn onto a merit badge sash, which is worn over the right shoulder. Type A badges came from the manufacturer without the crease. Some people removed excess cloth before creasing them to make the merit badge round on the merit badge sash. These cut–down squares look similar to a Type C, but usually end up with straighter, yet uneven edges; whereas unaltered Type B, C, D, and E badges have a smooth circular edge. Also, Type A merit badges usually have lighter tan khaki cloth than a Type C badge.
Reverse Some Type A, B, and C badges bear black watermarks or partial watermarks of the BSA emblem on the back as these were printed on the back of the rolls at certain intervals

Type B

Front/Reverse (Public Health) Essential facts Description
File:PublicHealth B front.jpg
File:PublicHealth B back.jpg
Nickname: wide border

Years of Issue:

Unusually large size

Background Some Type B and C badges retained the same cloth color as Type A, but most came in a darker tan/brown cloth.
Front Type B merit badges were the first badges to be manufactured with a smooth, round shape, which the manufacturer produced by folding the badge's edge under the back and crimping it. Type C, D, and E badges were also manufactured in this manner, hence Types B–E are referred to as crimped. Type B badges have a diameter of 1 3/4" (44 mm) after crimping. Type B has a margin of 3/16" to 1/4" (5–6 mm) between the edge of the badge and the embroidered green ring; because this margin is wider than in the Type C badge, Type B is nicknamed wide border.
Reverse As with Type A, some Type B badges bear watermarks on the back.

Type C

Front/Reverse (Civics) Essential facts Description
Civics, Type C, front
Civics, Type C, back
Nickname: narrow border, narrow tan

Years of Issue:

Background Type C merit badges were made from the same type of cloth as Type B badges, but were a little smaller in width.
Front The diameter of a Type C badge from outer edge to outer edge is about 1 1/2" (38 mm), with the distance from the crimp to the outer edge of the green ring being 1/8" (3 mm). Size is the only difference in a Types B and C; hence the nicknames narrow border and narrow tan. In fact, all Type C, D and E badges are the same size. Compare Types B and C side-by-side; the difference in the distance from the outer crimp edges to the green rings is obvious. Beginning with Type C, all merit badges have been made with a diameter of 1 1/2" (38 mm), except for a few Type I designs (see below). Most Type C badges were not made after 1942 (see Type D section below); only the Air Scout aviation blues, which came in four designs, were made in Type C from 1942–46. These had the standard Type C cloth, but were fully embroidered with blue backgrounds inside a blue ring. This is the only time badges were made with blue rings.
Reverse As with Type A, some Type C badges bear watermarks on the back. Type C, D, and E merit badges all have sizing on the back, which serves as a stiffener to help the badge retain its crimp.

Type D

Front/Reverse (Camping) Essential facts Description
Camping, Type D, front
Camping, Type D, back
Nickname: fine twill, sand twill

Years of Issue:

Background Type D merit badges were made from a lighter weight cloth with a much finer weave and lighter tan color than Type C badges because the heavier, thicker weave material that Type C badges were made from was needed to make uniforms needed during World War II. This is the only difference in a Type C and Type D.
Front Because of its finer weave twill material, Type D badges are called fine twill. Another name for them is sand twill because of their sandy color. The only Type C badges made during this era were the afore–mentioned Type C aviation–blues. Because sand twills were made for such a short time many decades ago; they are rather rare.
Reverse As with Type C, Type D badges have sizing on the back.

Type E

Front/Reverse (Dog Care) Essential facts Description
Dog Care, Type E, front
Dog Care, back
Nickname: khaki green, khaki

Years of Issue:

Last type with crimped edges

Background Type E merit badges were made from the same material as Type C badges, but the color is a decidedly darker green, hence the nickname khaki green. This is the only difference in a Type C and Type E.
Front Serious collectors have Type B, C, D, and E merit badges recrimped to restore their original appearance as many badges lose their neat appearance over the years if the merit badge is not cared for properly. If a Type E badge has had significant washings or sun exposure it can be hard to tell from a Type C.
Reverse As with Type C, Type E badges have sizing on the back.

Type F

Front/Reverse (Swimming) Essential facts Description
Swimming, Type F, front
Swimming, Type E, back
Nickname: khaki twill, rolled edge twill

Years of Issue:

Not all badges appeared in this type

Background Type F badges replaced the earlier crimped edge badges with a "rolled" edge, which is stitched around the outside to prevent unraveling.
Front Type F was introduced concurrently with Type G (see below), and both types were manufactured together for several years. The difference in the motif is that whereas Type F badges had a plain background, Type G badges were completely embroidered inside the green ring. Some badge motifs had been made this way since Type A; they moved directly to Type G and never appeared in Type F.
Reverse The BSA introduced an extra layer of cloth backing underneath the khaki cloth. Type F used gauze or cheese cloth and subsequent badge types used a fuller solid cloth backing.

Type G

Front/Reverse (Forage Crops) Essential facts Description
Forage Crops, Type G, front
Forage Crops, Type G, back
Nickname: cloth back

Years of Issue:

Background While all Type G badges have full embroidery inside the green ring, there were a few Type A, B, C, D, and E merit badges with full embroidery and hence do not exist as Type F merit badges; examples are: "Foundry Practice", "Grasses, Legumes, and Forage Crops" (later shortened to "Forage Crops"), "Farm Layout and Building Arrangement", and "Farm Home and its Planning".
Front In 1969, the BSA started issuing silver-bordered badges for those badges that were on the mandatory list for Eagle rank. Silver–bordered badges appear in Type G, H, and J. Consequently, the border color of a badge will change when it goes on and off the mandatory list. A good example is "Camping" Type H, which had a green border from 1973–1977, yet silver border before and after that; so this particular green border "Camping" variety is fairly rare.
Reverse Type G badges were the first to appear with a full cloth backing hence the nickname cloth back.

Type H

Front/Reverse (Collections) Essential facts Description
Collections, Type H, front
Collections, Type H, back
Nickname: plastic back

Years of Issue:

Background Type H merit badges were the first badges made with a plastic–coated backing, hence the nickname plastic back. The plastic coating is most commonly clear, but is also found in a milky white color and from 1972 until about 1977 blue plastic–coated merit badges were often issued. The blue–coated badges are fairly rare since they were only made for a few years. On merit badges that have a blue embroidered background, it is extremely difficult to tell if the plastic coating is blue or clear.
Front Type G, H, I and J badges are all fully embroidered. As they were made for 30 years, Type H merit badges are by far the most common.
Reverse Type H and all subsequent badges have both the full cloth back of a Type G and a plastic coated backing as a stiffener.

Type I

Front/Reverse (White Water) Essential facts Description
White Water, Type I, front
White Water, Type I, back
Nickname: computer design

Years of Issue:

Background Type I merit badges were designed using computers, hence the nickname computer design. The background stitching is flatter from that of Type G, H, and J badges and has the appearance of having punched holes, but the most obvious difference is in the green border––it is no longer rolled, but flat.
Front The BSA decided to phase in these badges beginning in 1993, but they were not very popular and were discontinued in 1995. Consequently, the BSA reverted to the Type H design for an additional seven years. Since Type I was never fully adopted, not all merit badges appear in Type I. In fact, only 30 varieties appear as Type I. So while not that old, they are also not that common. Another oddity is that some Type I badges were made in two sizes: 38 mm and 42 mm. Two different sizes of merit badges can not be lined up neatly on the same sash. Some merit badges that did appear as Type I only appear in 38 mm, some as only 42 mm, and some appeared in both sizes. None of the merit badges on the mandatory list for Eagle rank appeared as Type I.
Reverse There is a lockstitch and a brown ring stitched just inside the green ring on the obverse side of a Type I badge.

Type J

Front/Reverse (Fish and Wildlife Management) Essential facts Description
Fish & Wildlife Management, Type J, front
Fish & Wildlife Management, Type J, back
Nickname: Scout Stuff

Years of Issue:

Background The BSA started putting its supply division logo on all patches (ranks, position, numerals, etc) in 2002 to reduce counterfeiting and show support for the American labor force.[10]
Front The front of a Type J looks just like the front of Type H badges.
Reverse The only difference in a Type J merit badge and a Type H badge is that a Type J has some variation of the BSA Supply Division's Scout Stuff logo stamped on the back; hence the nickname "Scout Stuff". In the first few years the logo stamped on the back was not consistent in design. One of the early stamps was just a blue rectangle with the word Scout and a circular blue design inside it. The "Scout Stuff" design shown in the sample photo is now the standard. On a good specimen, a label reading BSA Supply Division and Scout Stuff is legible.

Errors vs variations

File:FirstAidToAnimals H SilverError front.jpg
Manufacturing error on the First Aid to Animals merit badge, Type H, 1972, front
File:FirstAidToAnimals H SilverError back.jpg
Manufacturing error on the First Aid to Animals merit badge, Type H, 1972, back

The visual appearance of a merit badge may alter due to several reasons. A "variation" is a minor change, whether intentional or not. A "manufacturing error" is a mistake or significant deviation from the BSA-approved badge design during production. A "design error" is when a badge is manufactured the way it was designed, but the design had a significant flaw.

Specimen variations

Variations do not appreciably alter the badge's appearance or design. Two types of variations include positional changes and stitching changes. These are often caused by manufacturing variations and not classified separately. However, some variations have attained notoriety, such as the waffle weave variation found among Type C badges and the large people vs. slender people variations among Family Life badges. Such variations were very common up until the 1940s and still occur, though not as often. Collectors find these variations interesting and collect such badges.

Examples of positional shifts among the objects comprising the motif of a merit badge include changes in the precise positioning of the tent and the mountains among "Camping" Type H merit badges. Another example is the shift among the Scout, the mountains, and the clouds in Hiking Type H merit badges.

Stitch patterns are not always consistent. There are three known stitching variations among the Type C Personal Health merit badges: "vertical heart", "horizontal heart", and "split heart"; the variation creates the appearance of a split down the middle of the heart. A similar error appears in both Type H and Type J Citizenship in the Nation badges, where colors vary in order from red, white, and blue to blue, white, and red; the reasons for this are unknown. Large and small bell varieties also exist. Emergency Preparedness was made with a red cross from 1972 until 1979, when it was replaced with a green cross in 1980. This change was intentionally made. However, the color of the green is not consistent; even today, it varies between dark green, medium green, light green, and yellow green.

Manufacturing errors

Genuine manufacturing errors occur from time to time. Some Atomic Energy Type G badges were made without a nucleus. The only time a merit badge was made without a silver, green, or blue (aviation blues only) border was in 1987 when Whitewater Type H badges were made with a black border. Dairying appears in Type H with the cheese in both orange and burgundy. It is supposed to be orange.

There have been at least three Type H badges made with little or no plastic; called plasticizing or Type G errors: American Cultures, Colonial Philadelphia, and Journalism. The "Colonial Philadelphia" patch was only available from 1975 until 1976 to Scouts in the Philadelphia region and could only be used for Eagle Palms.

First Aid to Animals (FATA) Type H was made in error with a silver border in 1972. This is one of the most famous errors. It has a slight blue tint in the plastic back (see photos). It is believed that only about 100 of these were made and that only about 50 have survived to this day. Counterfeit versions of this badge error also exist.[11][12] "Beekeeping" Type G is also known in silver border error. Neither one has ever been a required merit badge.

Design errors

The known design errors are all from the early years. "Beekeeping" was made from 1914–1938 with only four legs instead of six simply because of human design error. "Beekeeping" also exists in thick and thin bodies in Type C. "Insect Life" was first made, from 1923–1924, with a spider on it. Since a spider is an arachnid, not an insect, the design was changed to an aphid the following year. As this particular merit badge specimen was only issued for one year, it is extremely rare.

Spoof merit badges

Spoof merit badges are created and sold by various third-parties. These are not fakes of genuine merit badges, though they are the same size and have an outer green ring. To the unsuspecting buyer, these parodies appear to be real. Dozens of varieties exist, including badges for snoring, computer viruses, citizenship in the universe, snow art, text messaging, and whining.[13][14] A proposal for a duct tape merit badge has gathered widespread support from humorists.[15] A number of spoof merit badges could possibly be legitimate if the BSA ever authorized it; examples of this group include spoof badges for scuba diving and surfing.

Spoofs of other BSA badges also exist, including those denoting training status and troop positions. Some of the better-known examples are: "Untrained", "Untrainable", "Underpaid", "Retired", "Old Geezer", "Old Goat Patrol", and "Potty Trained". All spoof badges are unofficial and not recognized by the BSA.[16][17]

See also


  1. Duersch Jr., Fred (2003). Merit Badge Field Guide. Downs Printing Inc. pp. Pages i-xi. 
  2. "New Compostite Materials merit badge". US Scouts.org. http://www.usscouts.org/advance/boyscout/advchanges06.html. Retrieved 2006-01-18. 
  3. Ratcliffe, Jere B. (1998). Official Boy Scout Handbook (Eleventh edition ed.). Boy Scouts of America. pp. Page 185. ISBN 0-8395-3105-2. 
  4. Hillcourt, William (1964). Boy Scout Handbook (Sixth edition ed.). Boy Scouts of America. pp. Page 359. 
  5. Hillcourt, William ("Green Bar Bill") (1979). Official Boy Scout Handbook (Ninth edition ed.). Boy Scouts of America. pp. Page 533. ISBN 0-8395-3227-X. 
  6. "Did You Know?". Sage Venture Scouting History. http://www.sageventure.com/history/changes/#merit. Retrieved 2005-12-18.  (BSA advancement history changes)
  7. "Merit Badges, Past and Present, and Their Evolution". Scouters' Pages. http://home.earthlink.net/%7Escouters/mb.html. Retrieved 2005-12-13. 
  8. "Hunting merit badge being field tested". Merit Badge Research Center. http://www.meritbadge.com/home.htm. Retrieved 2005-12-28. 
  9. Duersch Jr., Fred (2003). Merit Badge Field Guide. Downs Printing Inc. pp. Pages 1-6. 
  10. Duersch Jr., Fred (2003). Merit Badge Field Guide. Downs Printing Inc. pp. Page 6. 
  11. "Spotting fake BSA insignia, including the fake "First Aid to Animals" merit badge". Fake and Reproduction Boy Scout Insignia. http://mitchreis.com/bsafake.htm. Retrieved 2005-12-13. 
  12. Template:Harvard reference page 31
  13. "Spoof Merit Badges and other patches". Boy Scout Store.com. http://www.boyscoutstore.com/store/Scripts/prodList.asp?idCategory=81. Retrieved 2006-01-01. 
  14. "Spoof Merit Badges and other patches". Streamwood.net. http://www.streamwood.net/cat568.htm/boy-scouts/merit-badges.asp. Retrieved 2006-01-01. 
  15. "Duct Tape Merit Badge". gobot.com. http://www.dtmb.gobot.com/. Retrieved 2006-02-22. 
  16. Boy Scout/Varsity Scout Uniform Inspection Sheet, Boy Scouts of America, 2000, Item #34283
  17. Insignia Guide, Boy Scouts of America, 2000, Item #33066B

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