Category Archives: Scouting

1956 Boys’ Life Radio Contest


Sixty years ago this month, the Boys’ Life Radio contest was once again underway, and radio made the cover of the November 1956 issue of Boys’ Life, depicting a ham who took a break from his duties in the school Thanksgiving  play to work some DX.

This cover was the work of frequent Boys’ Life artist Harold Eldridge. According to the magazine’s description:

Miles Standish thought he had it touch, having to defend the pilgrims with just a handful of soldiers armed with blunderbusses. But pity the poor dramatics coach who has his Indians better trained than his hams. That friendly Algonkian in the window probably pictures the coach back in the high school auditorium, sweaty hands clutching the curtain ropes, but not John Alden, no Priscilla Mullen, and no Miles Standish yet appearing in the wings.

According to the magazine, the artist never did tell whether the DX’ing ham ever got back in time to cut some turkey on stage.

1956 Boys’ Life SWL’ing


Notwithstanding the microphone and bug shown in the photo, the young ham shown here in the October 1956 issue of Boys’ Life is honing his SWL skills in preparation for the magazine’s forthcoming shortwave listening contest which would be announced the following month.

The accompanying article gives scouts pointers on the shortwave listening hobby, and reminds readers that there were a lot of interesting signals to be pulled in by even inexpensive receivers.  It pointed out that aspiring SWL’s should first take a look at the family’s radio in the living room, since there was a good chance that it pulled in the shortwave bands in addition to standard broadcasts.

The article appears to be a reprint of the same article that appeared in the October 1952 issue.  The author was Roger Legge, who penned the “English Broadcasts to North America” feature in Popular Electronics for many years.  The byline of the 1952 article also identified him as the Frequency Assignment Officer of the Voice of America.

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

1916 Boys’ Life Telegraph

1916BLtelegraph2A hundred years ago this month, the June 1916 issue of Boys’ Life showed Scouts how to make this telegraph set. The plans are pretty self-explanatory. Closing the key energizes the electromagnet and makes the sounder sound. The article notes that it works just like a regular set used by the railroad and telegraph companies. It concedes that the set “isn’t much to look at, but it is a better one than Edison made when he was a beginner.”


It went on to show the hookup for two sets (simply using three wires) to communicate with a friend “across the street, down the block, or over the way.”

Collins in 1910. Wikipedia photo.

The author of the article was A. Frederick Collins, a prolific early radio author of books such as the 1915 The Book of Wireless.  He was also the principal author of the 1922 Radio Amateur’s Handbook.

The 1915 Book of Wireless, as well as his contributions to Boys’ Life, came on the heels of the low point in his life, a 1913 conviction for mail fraud, arising out of exaggerated claims over a wireless telephone stock promotion. In 1917, the year after this upbeat Boys’ Life article, his wife filed for separation, stating that he “had come back to freedom… with his disposition ruined”, “soured against the world, soured against even his benefactors, and soured against her,” and engaging in “long harangues and tirades of invectives against the world in general and the United States government in particular.”  Collins died in 1952 at the age of 82.

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon


1966 Boys’ Life Signaler


This simple Morse Code practice device dates back fifty years, to the May 1966 issue of Boys’ Life.  At the time, Scouts had to know both semaphore and Morse Code to earn the First Class rank, and this set let them practice sending and receiving Morse Code via the “wigwag” method, using a flag.

According to the magazine, the idea was sent in by Scouts from Troop 240 of Fair Lawn, N.J. It was simplicity itself–it was just a block of wood, with a small version of the flag mounted on a coat-hanger wire. The code was printed on top of the block, and “even a Tenderfoot can send messages–since he can read code from board–and he’ll unconsciously start learning the code early.”

The bill of materials called for a piece of red felt, a white patch for the middle, a coat hanger, some tape, a pine block, and “one ambitious Scout.”

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

1956 Worm Farming!


Sixty years ago this month, the April 1956 issue of Boys’ Life showed entrepreneurial scouts how to go into business for themselves, with practically zero capital investment, by taking advantage of the fortune crawling under their feet:  By starting their own worm farm.

The magazine explained the whole business from start to marketing their wares.  The initial investment was practically zero, since the entire breeding stock could be harvested from the back yard.

Boys could expect to get about 35 cents per five dozen by packaging them in containers available for about one cent, and the magazine explained the best sources for the containers. The best market was suggested to be sporting goods stores and bait and tackle shops. It advised boys to “call on all the stores you can reach and begin to establish a trade. Let them know that you can supply all the worms they need on short notice so they won’t have to stock a large supply at any one time.” The article suggested that it might be necessary to leave them on consignment. Later on, they could expand to neighboring towns, and even advertise nationally, with a suggested price of about $4 per thousand.

“It takes time to build up a constant source of orders, but since the worms are doing most of the work at no cost to you there is no labor problem or upkeep to worry about.”

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

Radio Scouting, 1916

9UZ1916Shown here in the March 1916 issue of Boys’ Life magazine is the wireless transmitting and receiving apparatus of Boy Scout Troop 4, Covington, Kentucky. According to the magazine, the station was owned and operated by the troop’s Senior Patrol Leader, Austin Edwards. The troop’s scoutmaster was listed as Mr. Nelson J. Edwards.

According to the 1916 Call Book, Austin N. Edwards of 99 East 4th Street, Covington, Kentucky, was the holder of call sign 9UZ.

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

1916 Boys’ Life Heliograph

Heliograph1A hundred years ago this month, the March 1916 issue of Boys’ Life magazine carried the plans for this simple heliograph.  This device is capable of signalling many miles, depending of course on the altitude and whether the sun is shining.  It allows the sender to flash signals using any code, although the article recommends use of the Morse code.

The heliograph consists of a mirror with a hole drilled through it (for sighting).  Drilling the hole through glass was probably the most difficult part of the process, as the article points out that “any optician will drill the hole for you for a quarter or less.”

The construction details are rather straightforward, as shown by the illustration below.  To use, the sender first sights the receiving station by looking through the hole, and lining the stick in front up with the destination.  Then, the mirror is adjusted so that the sun is focused on the stick.  To send, a card is simply placed in front of the mirror and raised to send a flash.


Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

Signs, Signals, and Codes Merit Badge


semaphoreI’m a counselor in the Northern Star Council of the Boy Scouts of America for the relatively new Signs, Signals, and Codes Merit Badge.  I’ll be doing my first session for this merit badge this weekend, and I put together a collection of various cheat sheets to give the scouts.

If other counselors are interested in having a copy, I have a PDF at my website.  Most of this same information is available in the merit badge pamphlet, but not all scouts will have a copy, and it will be helpful to have all of the references in one place.

The merit badge covers a lot of interesting material, and should be of interest to scouts.  It’s also one that one counselor cannot adequately handle.  I’m an expert on Morse Code, but I’ll be relying on outside experts to help me with subjects such as semaphore and American Sign Language.  Many other subjects are also covered, including trail signs, silent scout signals (although “silent scout” is an oxymoron), nautical flags, and even emoticons.

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

Boy Scout Broadcasts, 1941


Shown here are the Scouts and Scoutmaster of Troop 3, Bloomington, Illinois, presenting a radio broadcast over station WJBC, Bloomington-Normal Illinois. The photo appeared in the February 1941 issue of Scouting magazine, along with pointers for troops and local councils to put on Scout broadcasts. The article stressed that putting on a broadcast was not a small undertaking, and would require a great deal of effort by the Scouts and Scouters involved. It did note, however, that stations could be receptive to the idea: “Local stations in all parts of the country make a practice of devoting a certain amount of their time on the air to educational sustaining programs. It is generally very easy therefore, for Boy Scouts to secure free time on the air.”

The National Council of the BSA made available scripts for use by local units, and the U.S. Office of Education made available additional scripts that might be appropriate for Scout programs.

Because of the scope of such a project, the article recommended that such efforts were probably best accomplished by local councils, rather than individual troops. In any event, the article stressed that approval from the council must be obtained prior to approaching any radio station asking for air time.

Click Here For Today’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Cartoon

1956 Boys’ Life Radio Contest


Sixty years ago this month, another Boys’ Life radio contest was underway, as shown by these scouts pictured above in the February 1956 issue of the magazine.

The issue carried an extensive article detailing how scouts could pull in numerous stations, both amateur and broadcast, from around the world.