Whether or not you were a girl or boy scout, you’re familiar with the uniform: a button-up shirt and shorts with an embroidered ID number and an iconic sash of patches. Kids join the scouts programs to learn life skills of the time. At the start of the program, boys learned how to build fires and make things out of wood, while girls learn how to build cakes and make casseroles. In a lot of ways, the scout programs still feel like an institution of a bygone era, but a look back at the niche patches of yesteryear are actually all you need to see where we were and where we’re headed.
The Boy Scouts program came to America in 1910, but the first 57 merit badges didn’t come into play until a year later. Then in 1912 the Girl Scouts, were introduced and they designed their own suite of patches specific to the demands of women during that time.
It’s been over one hundred years, and the designs on some of the patches like First Aid, Painting, and Chemistry have stayed the same while many have been retired or replaced entirely to mirror a changing workforce. A look back at some of the early scout patches makes us realize the skills we've abandoned and the ones we should have held onto.
Pigeon Raising: Before you threw crumbs for them, you might have befriended them and gotten a badge for Pigeon Raising, discontinued in 1980. Before air mail was carried by plane, it was indeed carried by pigeon, so this was a helpful skill. image
Rabbit Raising: If you preferred something soft and cuddly, you could get a badge for Rabbit Raising up until 1993. image
Pet Care: Until 1956, girls could get this patch for taking care of their pets. It required doing all the chores your parents cautioned before getting Fido — walking, feeding, and bathing. image
Beekeeping: With the bee population in dire straights, it seems that bee keeping should actually be brought out of the vault. We definitely need a fresh youg fleet of bee lovers. image
Horse Lover: Without a “Loves Boy Bands” patch, the Horse Lover patch has to be one of the easiest ones for most girls to get. image
Taxidermy: It’s strange to think of a kid preserving a dead animal, but apparently they could get a badge for it until 1952. Be they hunting trophies or beloved pets, it probably took a strong stomach to get this one. image
Receptionist: For only seven years, Girl Scouts could get a Telephone Receptionist badge for doing volunteer clerical work. For you collectors out there, this one was only stitched in 1954, so they’re really rare! image
Wireless: In 1923, “Wireless” wasn’t as much of a broad term as it is today. To get the Wireless badge, boy scouts had to learn about radio broadcasting — from knowing about the different waves to the electromagnetic spectrum. image
Milliner: While there are definitely still some milliners around, most hats you see on the streets don a sports logo or they’re wide-brimmed, felt, fast fashion pieces. But if Kentucky Derby fashion catches on, maybe this retired badge will see comeback. image
Hostess: Hostessing less of a job and more of an expectation. Somewhat surprisingly though, to get the badge you didn’t have to know how to cook. You had to show that you knew how to properly greet, introduce, and say goodbye to your guests. In 1953, this became the Hospitality badge. image
Bookbinding: For 60 years, you could be trained in the fine art of bookbinding, but in 1987, this badge was replaced by the all encompassing Graphic Arts. Thankfully, even with computers taking over graphic arts, physical books have stuck around. image
Blacksmithing: Until 1933, this anvil wasn’t just a weapon in Looney Toons — it was of a symbol of a career in blacksmithing. image
Collections: This one seems a bit meta, a collection badge for your patch collection. Nonetheless, getting a Collections badge is actually a bit more involved than it might seem. You have to have the patience to build a collection, and display a niche expertise of what you’re collecting. image
Good Grooming: Skimming through the tale of Cinderella, good grooming isn’t really a focal point — unless you consider a fairy godmother appearing in a poof of glitter to clean you up. Nonetheless, the glass slipper wearing princess inspired this shortlived patch that was retired in 1955. image
Canning: Canning is actually a handy skill that should have a comeback, but right now it may sound like a weekend activity for senior citizens. While it may not be en vogue, it’s a great way to spare food waste. It’s been retired for half a century, but it’s time to bring back the Canner badge! image
Nut Culture: This was a really early patch that was started in 1928 and later replaced by the more general Fruit and Nut patch in 1954. Scouts learned how to grow various nuts and legumes. image
Basketry: Wicker has not aged well. It’s certainly not the modern material of choice, but in the 50s, basketry was a handy skill worthy of a badge. image
Pen pal: Before email, instant message, and social media connected us across oceans, a pen pal was your personal connection to parts of the world that were foreign. Keeping the thread going earned you a badge. image
Just like patches emblazoned with band names and political slogans, the ones we wear as kids say a lot about the world of the time. Merit badges awarded to scouts today are for much more modern for skills like Environmental Science, Animation, and Coding. In a decade or so, we'll no doubt see pre-teens with patches for artificial intelligence or drone flying.