Why Square Knots

The square knot is used as the basis for at least 30 of the BSA's recognition awards which carry an emblem for uniform wear. Remember that the actual award is NOT the square knot itself, but rather in the Cub Scout leader's case, a medallion suspended from a colorful ribbon which is worn around the neck of the Cub Scouter. Hopefully after the first of the year, I'll have copies of all of the awards and their associated square knot emblem on the Unofficial Uniform and Insignia site I maintain and which is linked to the US Scouting Service Project.

The actual reason why the square knot was chosen is rooted in the history of the BSA. The first Chief Scout Executive, James West, decided to end the long tradition of allowing BSA Scoutmasters and Commissioners to wear military medal ribbons and other military-looking ribbons to represent Scouting awards. It is rumored that he chose the square knot as the emblem to represent the Eagle, Scouters' Key and Scouters' Training Award, and the Silver Beaver (the first awards for Scouters to wear) because the square knot would remind Scouters to continue to be of service to others. The square knot, of course, is the knot associated with first aid. So, with different combinations of rope colors, and later with different background colors, the square knot became Scouting's "informal ribbons" representing national, regional, local Council, and eventually unit awards.

There isn't any written confirmation of the above, but this description and reasoning has been published in previous editions of Scouting as well as on several websites (including my own).

Oh, the national awards without a square knot:

  1. the Silver World Award
  2. the Sea Badge
  3. the District Award of Merit
  4. the Ranger Award
  5. the Youth Leadership in America Award, and
  6. the Silver Fawn Award (which shared the square knot with the Silver Beaver)

(MAJ) Mike L. Walton (settummanque, the blackeagle)
Board Member, US Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Page updated on: May 23, 2014

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