How the Boy Scouts won World War II

A poster from WWI uses the Boy Scouts to promote buying war bonds. In WWII, Scouts were responsible for distributing these types of posters (ARC Identifier 512598).

This year is the big centennial of the Boy Scouts of America. Thousands of young Scouts will gather together next week at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia to celebrate 100 years of scouting.

Sixty years ago, Boy Scouts were swarming the towns and cities of North America. But they weren’t camping or earning badges. They were working for the Federal Government.

With the men out in the battlefield, women were encouraged to fill positions in factories and fields. They were also faced with other challenges, such as rationed food. To help promote work and cooperation on the homefront, the Office of War Information (OWI) created informative and inspirational  posters to be hung in stores.

How could these posters be quickly distributed—and how could the OWI be confident that they would be put up?

Enter the Boy Scouts. In 1942 they had been in existence for 32 years. They were organized, recognizable, and a part of their communities across America.

The OWI quickly took advantage of this network, starting in October 1942 with a poster for Columbus Day. Every two weeks, thousands of new posters were distributed to 2,300 participating communities, and the Boy Scouts made sure they went up.

In 1942, President Roosevelt made the Boy Scouts “Official Dispatch Bearers” for the OWI.

Although the OWI and the poster program had some rocky moments before its eventual dissolution at the end of the war, the operation successfully used 1,600,000 young people to inform and inspire civilians on the homefront.

You can learn more about the Scouts and the poster campaign in our Summer 2005 Prologue article.

And don’t forget—on July 23, 24, and 25 from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., there will be a special entrance for Scouts in uniform at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

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