Chicago Publisher W.D. Boyce Founded the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America provide youth with character development and values-based leadership training, with its founders incorporating outdoor activities to develop skills in young boys to give them values such as a code of conduct for everyday living, fellowship, and enjoyment. The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law. 

William Dickson Boyce, the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, was born in June 1958 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Boyce moved to Chicago in 1881 and used his publishing experience to eventually become very wealthy via the newspaper industry. Boyce also spent time in Canada and North Dakota as his weekly papers, which included the Dakota Clipper, Saturday Blade, and Chicago Ledger, continued to flourish. 

Boyce founded the Mutual Newspaper Publishing Company and provided advertisements and articles to over 200 newspapers, with the Saturday Blade becoming the newspaper of largest circulation in the U.S. by 1892. 

Boyce moved to Ottawa with his wife and three children in 1903 after buying a four-story mansion on 38 acres. With his vast wealth, personal pursuit of interests outside of his businesses, and thirst for hunting expeditions, Boyce traveled the world on a regular basis. It was on a trip to London in 1909 where he learned what a ‘scout’ was. 

As the legendary story is told, one day Boyce was alone and lost on the street in the thick London fog. A young boy in uniform approached Boyce and assisted him to his destination. The boy wanted no tip or payment for his services and instead explained how he was a volunteer who did good deeds and was a scout. From this chance encounter, Boyce wanted to learn more about scouts and eventually met with Robert Baden-Powell, the British founder of the Boy Scouts. 

Boyce learned all he could about the British scouts and their mission and brought that knowledge back to the U.S. After founding the Boy Scouts of America, Boyce was assisted by Edgar Robinson of the YMCA, Canadian naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton of the Woodcraft Indians, and Dan Carter Beard of the Sons of Daniel Boone to get the Boy Scouts organization up and running. 

Boyce’s focus turned to helping boys in rural areas who were unable to attend troop meetings. He founded the Lone Scouts of America program in 1912 and eventually merged it with the Boy Scouts in 1924. In 1926, Boyce and the unknown scout from that foggy day in London were honored with the Silver Buffalo Award, the most coveted award the Boys Scouts of America can bestow on a scout. 

Boyce died in 1929 at the age of 70. He was buried in Ottawa at the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery. The Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum opened in 1997 and includes a re-creation of a room in the Boyce Home in Ottawa. A number of historical artifacts and pictures are also on display at the museum. 

Boyce is also remembered in Ottawa with a duplicate of the life-size 1937 statue “The Boy Scout,” which was unveiled at his grave in June 1941. And in 1960 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America, a dedication ceremony and re-enactment of the London fog meeting was held in Ottawa. Over 15,000 scouts and leaders were on hand and five vintage-style gas lights were installed in the center of Washington Square Park. The celebration included a parade of Boy Scouts from the Square to the Boyce gravesite.