1. There was no "Scout" Rank. The first thing you worked on was Tenderfoot. There was the usual stuff about the Scout Law, Sign, Salute, Handclasp, and Outdoor Code. In addition, there was the history of the US flag.
2. The actual DOING tests were fewer (but in some cases, harder). You had to be able to demonstrate proper flag handling. You had to be able to whip the ends of a rope. And you had to tie ALL the Tenderfoot knots: square knot, sheet bend, clove hitch, two half hitches, bowline, taut-line hitch.
1. There was an attendance and participation requirement.
2. Hiking was a big deal for Second Class. You had to do three 5-mile hikes, for each of which you had to show proper planning and preparation. Buddy hikes and patrol hikes were encouraged so boys didn't have to wait for troop hikes (no two-deep leadership -- heck, no adult leadership needed).
3. Map symbols, compass reading, orienting a map, what to do if you get lost, identifying local poisonous plants, finding ten different kinds of wildlife by sight, sound, or sign, and two of three special techniques (Trailing, Tracking, Stalking) were all part of the hiker's bag of tricks.
4. Sharpening a knife and ax and using them to prepare a fire (no more than two matches allowed) to cook a meal using raw meat and raw veg was the next cluster of tasks.
5. Simple first aid knowledge and skills.
6. Scoutmaster conference. Second class dug into the Scout Oath, too. And you had to be Tenderfoot for at least one month before your Second Class BOR.
Things got a lot more difficult -- and fun -- as you climbed to the coveted rank of First Class Scout.
1. Attendance and participation still counted.
2. Two campouts, one of which you had to pack all your gear in 1.5 miles for, pitching a tent, making a ground bed, and on at least one campout cooking breakfast and supper.
3. Shear, square, and diagonal lashings.
4. Using a compass and your step measurement, you had to make a map of your campsite.
5. More outdoorsy requirements were finding ten constellations and the North Star, identifying ten trees and shrubs, and the swim test (like we still do at camp). You had to identify four different wild foods -- and then prepare and eat one chosen by your Scoutmaster. (This requirement is where the secret knowledge of Indian turnips was passed on among the boys.)
6. Signalling probably stopped more kids from getting First Class than anything else. You had to be able to send and receive a 20-word message in either Morse Code or Semaphore. Oh, the nights we spent waving flags at each other in the church basement! Kids today have no idea.
7. More and harder First Aid -- plus, you could be retested on anything you learned for Second Class First Aid, too.
8. Another Scoutmaster conference, etc. You had to be Second Class for two months before your First Class BOR.
All in all, the lower ranks back then had a lot more outdoorsy or skill-related stuff and a lot less in the way of bureaucratic and talky requirements. Also, physical fitness wasn't a big deal, because we didn't sit around on our butts all day long; as soon as we were home from school, we were out playing (or if you were a farm kid, doing chores).
Attendance and participation, five merit badges (one from the Eagle-required list), a community service project, a conservation project, and leadership service. You had to be First Class for three months to move on to Star.
Attendance and participation, ten merit badges (five from the Eagle-required list), a community service project and a conservation project planned by yourself, and leadership service. You had to be Star for three months to move on to Life.
1. The BIG differences in the upper ranks are here. You still had attendance and participation requirements, and you had to be Life for at least six months before your Eagle BOR.
2. You had to earn a total of 21 merit badges, including all eleven of the Eagle-required list: Camping; Citizenship in the Community; Citizenship in the Nation; Conservation of Natural Resources (Soil & Water Conservation could be substituted for this if earned before Jan. 1, 1969); Cooking; First Aid; Lifesaving (the big stopper for a lot of Scouts -- when some guy says, "I was ONE merit badge short," he usually means Lifesaving); Nature; Personal Fitness; Safety; Swimming. NO Family Life, NO Personal Management, NO Communications: just sayin'.
3. Looking over the merit badge requirements, I notice that BSA explicitly gave permission to count certain 4-H and FFA projects and work in order to satisfy a lot of the outdoor, animal-related, and other badges.
4. The Eagle Service Project had much lower expectations than today. Suggested projects were given, some of which would pass muster even today, but some of which would look pretty wimpy to a lot of our current Scouts. There was much less foofaraw at the Council level on all this. I don't even clearly remember my Eagle Service Project, unless it was frying fish with the Lions Club. Hey, it's been fifty years. But seriously, we treat Eagle projects like PhD dissertations these days.
We had twice as many kids in Scouting back then, and the percentage of boys who earned Eagle was around 2%. Today, it's 4%. I don't know if that means that the same boys driven to excel will excel, though there are fewer just along for the ride -- or if, overall, the program has gotten easier. More paint-by-number, so to speak -- all laid out for you.
There were no Merit Badge seminars, no NYLT. Order of the Arrow and camp staff were the primary means of beyond-the-local-troop fellowship and activity. Philmont was around, but I never heard of it until I was sixteen -- and even then, it wasn't promoted much among the smaller troops like mine. But oh, the richness of all those days and nights spent in the woods! And all four seasons, too.