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Eagle Scout Requirements

A Comparison of the BSA's Eagle Requirements since 1911

Eagle Scout is just about the most significant accomplishment an American youth can earn. The award has value in adult society because of the example and success of past Eagles in adult life. Since the first Eagle in 1912, more than two-million boys (and men) have earned Eagle Scout (and the first female Eagles are coming this year [2020]).

Here are the requirements for the BSA's highest rank since its creation in 1911. By my count, there have been about a dozen different sets of requirements, though changes were sometimes minimal, and BSA has been fiddling with the requirements regularly in recent years. A boy could begin his advancement toward Eagle when he became a Scout (age 12 until 1949, age 11 until 1972, about age 10-1/2 since). Until 1952, adult men could also earn Eagle; since then the opportunity to earn the award stops at age 18 [although a number of Councils continued to allow adults to earn Eagle after 1952, until BSA firmly ended the option in 1965]. Note that neither leadership nor service were directly required until almost 50 years after Scouting's founding [although leadership was implicit in the requirement to be active]. A 1915 Boys Life magazine issue describes the Eagle award as "the highest honor given for winning Merit Badges." Although leadership may have been expected, it was not mentioned in connection with earning Eagle until the 1927 Handbook, and then only indirectly until 1958 when the Eagle candidate must "work actively as a leader in meetings, outdoor activities, and service projects of your unit". Only in 1965 was specific leadership required.

Of the original 1911 requirements, Eagle Scouts today still have to earn First Class, and still have to earn a total of 21 merit badges. Of the original Eagle required list of 11 badges from 1914, today's Eagles must still earn Camping, Cooking, and First Aid (and today's Personal Fitness is a direct successor to Personal Health). Lifesaving is still on the Eagle list, but is optional.

1910

The BSA comes into existence. Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton issues a temporary Handbook, which lists Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class as "Scouts' Badges". It additionally lists 14 "Badges of Merit" which can be earned only by First-Class Scouts and Scoutmasters. Also listed under "Badges of Merit" is the "Silver Wolf" (referred to as a "special badge and title"), granted to any Scout who earns all 14 badges of merit. No picture is shown of the Silver Wolf design, and it appears from BSA records that no Silver Wolf was ever awarded.

1911 Eagle Requirements

The BSA adds three higher awards for earning merit badges beyond First Class: Life, Star, and Eagle (Star was switched before Life in 1925, apparently because the five points of the Star could symbolize the five merit badges then required for the badge). Neither Life nor Star is required for Eagle (a Scouting magazine article [May-June 2003] indicated that 8 of the first 9 Eagle Scouts [including the BSA's first Eagle] did not earn either Life or Star ranks). The 1911 Scout Handbook refers to Eagle Scout as "the highest scout merit badge", and Eagle Scout is listed in the index specifically as a merit badge. Note that throughout the Second Handbook Edition (through 1927), what we now call ranks were referred to as badges or awards.

1912—Arthur Eldred becomes the first Eagle Scout.

1914 Eagle Requirements

[created an Eagle required list of 11 badges by adding 6 badges to the 5 formerly required for Life]

1915 Eagle Requirements

[made Physical Development optional along with Athletics; added Civics]

1927 Eagle Requirements

[required 1 year active service as First Class Scout; for the first time, refers to Eagle Scout as a rank rather than a badge]

1936 Eagle Requirements

[for the first time, required earning Star and Life ranks; added Safety]

In 1952, maximum age set at 18; before that there was no maximum age at which a boy or man could earn Eagle. Note that some Councils continued to allow men to earn Eagle until BSA firmly ended the option in 1965.

1958 Eagle Requirements

[now it gets complicated—a maze of merit badge options adding up to 16 required badges (from a list of 65 badge choices!) and 5 other badges; plus the first requirement to provide leadership and give service]

1965—500 000 Scouts have earned Eagle.

1965 Eagle Requirements

[eliminated the complex merit badge list and returned to a simple list of 11 required badges; required specific leadership and a community service project]

1970 Eagle Requirements

[alphabetized the required list of badges; Conservation of Natural Resources replaced Soil and Water Conservation]

1972 Eagle Requirements

[increased total badges required to 24, reflecting the new requirement to earn 5 merit badges for First Class; dropped Camping, Cooking, Nature; renamed/updated Conservation of Natural Resources as Environmental Science; added Citizenship in the World (formerly World Brotherhood), Communications, Personal Management (formerly Personal Finance), and optional Emergency Preparedness and Sports; made Swimming, Lifesaving, and Personal Fitness optional; for the first time, permitted a Scout to earn Eagle without knowing how to swim and without having any particular outdoor or camping experience; troop offices now referred to simply as a "position" rather than as "leadership"]

1976 Eagle Requirements

[only change was to restore Camping to the required list]

1978 Eagle Requirements

[reduced the Eagle total back to 21 merit badges]

1982—1 million Scouts have earned Eagle.

1994 Eagle Requirements

[only change was to add recently created Family Life merit badge to the required list]

1999 Eagle Requirements

[made Personal Fitness mandatory for the first time since 1972; dropped Safety and Sports as Eagle badges; added Hiking and Cycling as optional Eagle badges]

2009—2 million Scouts have earned Eagle.

2009 Eagle Requirements

[very minor adjustments to Scout Spirit requirement (spelling out the requirement for references), to the "positions of responsibility" list (Venture patrol leader, webmaster, Leave No Trace instructor), and an expanded description of the service project process]

*—So is it 'Communication' or 'Communications' merit badge? BSA just can't decide. All the Scout Handbooks through the 12th Edition call it 'Communications'. But the annual Boy Scout Requirements book has been calling it 'Communication' since 2010, and the 13th and 14th Editions of the Scout Handbook also call it 'Communication'. So looks like 'Communication' wins.

Recent Adjustments to the 2009 Requirements

Female Eagle Scouts

As of February 2019, the BSA for the first time now allows girls to earn the Eagle Scout award, and the first female Eagles will be completed about September, 2020 *. Female Scouts, Venturers, and Sea Scouts can now earn Eagle, following the same requirements as for male Scouts, Venturers, and Sea Scouts. For new Scouts who were at least age 16 but not yet 18 on 1 February 2019, BSA even offered an extension beyond age 18 to allow up to 24 months after joining to earn the Eagle award. Although intended to provide older girls a fair opportunity to earn Eagle, the extension option was also offered to boys who joined a troop for the first time at that age.

A Race to be the First Female Eagle Scout?
A girl joining a troop on 1 February 2019 could conceivably finish Eagle by late August, 2020 *. Undoubtedly there will be a number of girls who will complete Eagle in the September/October 2020 timeframe, and some will certainly claim to be the first. Happily, BSA is circumventing any race to be the first by stating that they will recognize all members of the first 'class' of female Eagles late in 2020, and they will not attempt to determine who was 'first' (though I'm sure this won't squelch some of the claims to be the first).

* A prepared Scout can earn the Scout rank on day 1 as a Scout. Although there is no minimum time requirement for the ranks through First Class, the physical fitness requirements for Tenderfoot (30 days), Second Class (4 weeks), and First Class (4 weeks), which must be done consecutively, enforce a minimum of 86 days to get to First Class (which might even be reduced by 4 more days depending on how you interpret the two '4 week' requirements). Minimum times for the higher three ranks are Star (4 months), Life (6 months), and Eagle (6 months). So a girl starting on 1 February 2019 could conceivably finish Eagle after 16 months plus 86 days (or 82 days) [and I don't even want to ask the technical definition of a 'month']. So it is likely that some girl will have her Eagle board of review around August 23 to August 27, 2020, and probably a number of girls will complete Eagle in September/October, 2020.

What percentage of Scouts become Eagles?
Although 3% to 6% is often tossed around, since BSA records show there have been about 2.6 million Eagles, and something around 115 million Scouts, that works out to about 2.3% who have earned Eagle since 1912. BSA indicates that 6.01% earned Eagle in 2015, and as can be seen from the numbers below, the rate of earning Eagle has been ramping up. For example, it took 53 years for the first 500 000 Eagles (just over 9400/year average), but only 20 years for the next 500 000 (25 000/year average). And then it took just 27 years for the next million Eagles (just over 37 000/year). Lately, the number has been over 50 000/year.

Why has the annual number of Eagle Scouts been increasing when there are fewer Scouts than there used to be?
Or to put it another way: Is earning Eagle easier than it used to be?

OK, that's a loaded question, and one that's been heartily debated since well before today's Eagles were born. I think there is one specific requirement that has significantly increased the challenge of earning Eagle, and several changes that have made earning Eagle easier:

How Eagle has gotten more challenging—

How Eagle has gotten easier—

Of course, your opinions may vary....

From 1912 through the end of 2019, 2 598 986 Eagle awards were earned.

Here is a chart (courtesy of the Scouting magazine blog) showing the number of Eagle awards earned each year from 1912 through 2017:

Number of Eagles per Year

Since the 55 494 Eagles in 2017, the number dropped slightly to 52 160 in 2018, and set a new all-time record of 61 353 in 2019. I'm guessing this may be due to a large number of LDS Scouts finishing Eagle before the LDS church dropped church sponsorship of troops at the end of 2019. So we'll see what happens over the next couple of years, with most LDS youth no longer in Scouting (though some will choose to continue with non-LDS troops), and with girls now able to earn Eagle (the first ones will happen in 2020).

Highest Scout Rank in Other Countries