OA History

The Order of the Arrow was founded during the summer of 1915 at Treasure Island, the Philadelphia Council Scout Camp. Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson were camp director and assistant, respectfully. These two men, working with their staff at Treasure Island, originated the ideas that became the basis for the national brotherhood of honor campers of the Boy Scouts of America. Treasure Island, located north of Trenton, N. J., in the Delaware River, was an early camping ground of the Lenni Lanape or Delaware Indians.

Goodman and Edson wanted some definite form of recognition for those Scouts in their camp who best exemplified the spirit of the Scout Oath and Law. Since the valley of the Delaware was rich in tradition and the site was an island used in bygone days as camping grounds for the Indians, it seemed only natural to base this brotherhood of honor campers on the legends and the traditions of the Delaware. As a result, they prepared a simple, yet effective, ceremony that, in turn, led to the organization of what was later to be known as the Order of the Arrow.

It was from the beginning that the procedures and programs of the organization were to be based on the ideals of democracy. Thus, a unique custom was established in that the members were elected by non-members. There has been no change in this since that time. Horace W. Ralston, a Philadelphia Scouter, suggested the original name, Wimachtendienk, Wingolauchsik, Witahemui. The original ceremony was quite different than the one that has developed later. Yet there were still three lessons taught.

In the first year, 25 members were inducted into the brotherhood. Many members wore a black sash with a white arrow on it. The black sash was used, because it offered an excellent contrast to the white arrow. In the original plans there were two degrees; the first was much like a combination of the Ordeal and Brotherhood memberships, and the second an early version of the Vigil Honor.

From 1915 until 1921, the Order grew slowly. In 1921, steps were taken to establish the Order on a national basis. And, in 1922, the Order of the Arrow became an official program experiment of the Boy Scouts of America. On June 2, 1934, at the National Council Annual Meeting in Buffalo, New York, the National Council approved the Order of the Arrow program.

In May 1948, the National Executive Board, upon recommendation of its Committee on Camping, officially integrated the Order of the Arrow into the Scouting movement. The Order’s National Lodge was dissolved, and supervision shifted to the Boy Scouts of America.

The Executive Committee of the National Lodge became the National Committee on Camping and Engineering, and a staff member was employed as national executive secretary. In the 1974 re-organization of the Boy Scouts of America, the Order of the Arrow Committee became a subcommittee of the National Boy Scout Committee.

The growth of the Order of the Arrow through the years has never been based on an aggressive promotional plan. It came because councils’ believed in the ideals expressed by the Order, and voluntarily requested that lodges be formed. The soundness of providing a single workable honor campers’ brotherhood, rather than many, is evident. Over one million Boy Scouts, Explorers, and Scouters have been inducted into the Order during the past 95 years. There are now over 183,000 active members.

This coverage of the nation makes possible a unified approach. It provides for transfer of membership, standard books and supplies, national training plans, and a coordinate scheme for building strength in local units through regional and national service. All of these add color, enthusiasm, and quality to the camping program of Scouting.