On January 24, 1908, the Boy Scouts movement begins in England with the publication of the first installment of Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. The name Baden-Powell was already well known to many English boys, and thousands of them eagerly bought up the handbook. By the end of April, the serialization of Scouting for Boys was completed, and scores of impromptu Boy Scout troops had sprung up across Britain.

In 1900, Baden-Powell became a national hero in Britain for his 217-day defense of Mafeking in the South African War. Soon after, Aids to Scouting, a military field manual he had written for British soldiers in 1899, caught on with a younger audience. Boys loved the lessons on tracking and observation and organized elaborate games using the book. Hearing this, Baden-Powell decided to write a nonmilitary field manual for adolescents that would also emphasize the importance of morality and good deeds.

First, however, he decided to try out some of his ideas on an actual group of boys. On July 25, 1907, he took a diverse group of 21 adolescents to Brownsea Island in Dorsetshire where they set up camp for a fortnight. With the aid of other instructors, he taught the boys about camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, boating, lifesaving, patriotism, and chivalry. Many of these lessons were learned through inventive games that were very popular with the boys. The first Boy Scouts meeting was a great success.

With the success of Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell set up a central Boy Scouts office, which registered new Scouts and designed a uniform. By the end of 1908, there were 60,000 Boy Scouts, and troops began springing up in British Commonwealth countries across the globe. In September 1909, the first national Boy Scout meeting was held at the Crystal Palace in London. Ten thousand Scouts showed up, including a group of uniformed girls who called themselves the Girl Scouts. In 1910, Baden-Powell organized the Girl Guides as a separate organization.