The original 1910 BSA handbook listed 14 merit badges, eight of which were pictured with drawings. The original 14 merit badges were Ambulance, Clerk, Cycling, Electrician, Fireman, Gardner, Horseman, Marksmanship, Master-of-Arms, Musician, Pioneering, Seamanship, Signaling, and Stalker. None of these are known to actually exist, and they probably were never made. The 1911 handbook named the first 57 merit badges that were actually awarded. Early Scouts sewed their badges on sashes, like today, but the first sashes were homemade, and that is not the only way that merit badges were worn. Some Scouts wore their merit badges on their right sleeve. Other Scouts wore their badges on a removable sleeve, or false sleeve, that they wore over their regular sleeve on special occasions. In the early days, many Scouts sewed rank patches and other patches on their sash as well, sometimes even on the back. Some sashes were two badges wide and some (like today) were three badges wide.
Today, any Boy Scout under the age of 18 may earn merit badges. It was not always that way. During various times in Scouting’s history, you had to be at least Second Class to work on merit badges, and at other times, you had to be at least First Class. At first, any Scout or Scouter could work on merit badges and advance to Eagle. Adults in some councils could earn merit badges and become Eagle Scouts up until 1965.
1910 BSA Handbook Merit Badges
2010 Historic Merit Badge Program
In the last 99 years, there have been many changes in the merit badge offerings. As society has changed, the Boy Scouts of America has adapted by revising the requirements, implementing name changes, adding new merit badges, and in some instances, eliminating some badges altogether.
For the 100th Anniversary Celebration, four vintage merit badges are being released for the centennial celebration year only, giving Boy Scouts the hands-on opportunity to experience the exciting past of Scouting while learning how our world has changed in that 100 years.
There are 57 merit badges in the 1911 "Boy Scout of America Handbook for Boys" which is sometimes recognized as the first BSA handbook, ignoring the 1910 Handbook. Over the years some patch designs have changed.