Although many ideas were incorporated into the Boy Scouts of America, a chance encounter on a foggy London night in 1909 connected all the threads. Chicago publisher William D. Boyce was on his way to a safari in Africa. On a layover in London, he became lost and was rescued by a helpful Boy Scout who refused to take a tip for his good deed. This inspired Boyce to set up a meeting with the man who had started the movement in 1907, Major General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell.
Baden-Powell, a plucky Boer War hero, penned Scouting for Boys in 1908 after learning the popularity of his survival manual among schoolboys. Feeling modern males lacked the kinds of initiation rites found in primitive society, and disdaining the urban decadence and declining influence of the British military in Edwardian Britain, Baden-Powell developed his own program for building character among youths in a setting of outdoor recreation. Besides African tribes, he looked to the early British and Irish, the Japanese, the Spartans, and to contemporary American youth movements for inspiration. Although scouting was in its infancy when Boyce discovered it, the movement had already recruited more than 100,000 Boy Scouts across the British Empire. Baden-Powell was knighted for his work in 1910.
Initially unable to obtain a federal charter, Boyce incorporated the Boys Scouts of America on February 8, 1910, in the District of Columbia. He then delegated some of the start-up work to Edgar M. Robinson, who was heading a scouting program for the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association). On June 21, 1910 dozens of representatives from various boys' agencies met at BSA's temporary headquarters at a New York YMCA to elect a steering committee. By this time, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst had organized his own 'American Boy Scouts.'
From the start, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was surrounded by men of influence and means. President William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt were named honorary president and vice-president. The group's president was Colin Livingstone, president of the American National Bank of Washington. Scottish émigré Ernest Thompson Seton, who had founded the Woodcraft Indians and would write the BSA handbook, was chosen first Chief Scout in 1910. Another buckskin-wearing naturalist, Daniel Carter Beard, was first national scout commissioner. He designed the original uniform and merged his own boys' group, the Sons of Daniel Boone, with BSA. James E. West, the first Chief Scout Executive, was an inspirational figure. Handicapped and an orphan, he had furthered himself along the lines of a Teddy Roosevelt. However, he antagonized the more athletic types, like Seton, who was forced out of the organization.
BSA established its National Council office at 200 Fifth Avenue, New York on January 2, 1911. It had just seven staff members but membership reached 61,495 that year. President Taft spoke at the group's first annual meeting, held at the White House. Boys' Life magazine was launched that same year and scouting spread to all states by the next year. In 1913, BSA commenced publication of Scouting magazine for Scout volunteers. BSA finally received a federal charter in June 1916 which limited membership to U.S. citizens. Membership stood at 245,183 at year-end. Boy Scouts soon became known for their patriotic service, selling millions of dollars worth of war bonds during World War I.