William D. Boyce

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William Dickson "W. D." Boyce (June 16, 1858 – June 11, 1929), was a newspaper man and entrepreneur, best known today for founding the Boy Scouts of America and the Lone Scouts of America [1]


Early life

Boyce was born June 16, 1858 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In the back-country days of his childhood, Boyce acquired a love for the outdoors and a tremendous work ethic. He attended the Wooster Academy in Ohio in 1878, then went to Chicago to become a salesman. Boyce was both a shrewd salesman and a quick learner, and people were drawn to his extroverted personality. He moved from city to city rapidly, unsatisfied with staying in one place.

Business enterprises

As Boyce traveled, he left in his wake many things. In Winnipeg, Manitoba he founded The Commercial, a newspaper that lasted for 70 years, and in Lisbon, North Dakota he founded the Lisbon Clipper. In New Orleans he managed the New Orleans Cotton Exposition. Boyce was married in 1883 to Mary Jane Deacon, a woman also experienced in the ways of the outdoors.

In Chicago, he established the weekly Saturday Blade in 1887, an illustrated newspaper aimed at a rural audience and sold by a legion of newsboys. The success of this paper established the W.D. Boyce Publishing Company. He would add additional papers, buying out the Chicago Ledger, another weekly, in 1892. Others established included Farm Business in 1914 and Home Folks Magazine in 1922. Dwindling sales lead to the merger of the Blade and Ledger in 1925 as the monthly Chicago Blade & Ledger. This paper would continue until 1937.

As Boyce's enterprises grew, he insisted on the welfare of delivery boys, and had as many as 30,000 in his employment. Working with them may have helped him gain an understanding of America's youth.

Foundation of the BSA

By the early 20th century, Boyce was a multi-millionaire. He had traveled the world and lived his dream, but, at 51, Boyce grew weary of financial success and turned his attention to philanthropy. He turned to his childhood as a resource, but could not find the answer until a fateful stop to England while en route to what became a failed photographic expedition to Africa.

Unknown Scout legend

Main article: The Unknown Scout

According to legend, he was lost on a foggy street in London in 1909 when an unknown Scout came to his aid, guiding him back to his destination. [2] The boy then refused Boyce's tip, explaining that he was merely doing his duty as a Boy Scout. Soon thereafter, Boyce met with Robert Baden-Powell, who was the head of the Boy Scout Association at that time. Boyce returned to America, and, four months later, founded the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. He intended to base the program on American Indian lore. This version of the legend has been printed in numerous BSA handbooks and magazines. There are several variations of this legend, such as one that claimed he knew about Scouting ahead of time.


After incorporating the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910, Boyce personally donated $1000 a month to keep the organization running. He was not interested in directing the organization, and turned over the construction of the organization to Edgar M. Robinson, who proceeded to recruit the men who formed the permanent executive board of the BSA.

In later years, after clashing with the beliefs of James E. West, Chief Scout Executive, regarding a program for boys who lived too far from town to join a troop, Boyce started a new Scouting-related venture: the Lone Scouts of America, which allowed geographically isolated boys to experience Scouting. Eventually, the LSA was merged into the BSA.


Boyce died on June 11, 1929, shortly after his only son died. Boyce is buried in his sometime hometown of Ottawa, Illinois, in the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery. A statue commemorating his contribution to the Boy Scouts of America stands near his grave.

Boyce was recognized with the Silver Buffalo Award for his efforts in starting the BSA. The local W. D. Boyce Council in Illinois is named in his honor. In 2005, the BSA introduced a new award, the William D. Boyce New-Unit Organizer Award, that is awarded to the leader of any new Cub Scout pack, Boy Scout Troop, Varsity Scout team, Venturing crew or Sea Scout ship that is formed after March 1, 2005.

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