History of Pocket Flap

Profile - History of the Pocket Flap

It is strongly recommended by the National Committee that these emblems be made to fit the shape of the right shirt pocket flap. The right shirt pocket flap has been approved by the National Committee on Badges and Insignia for official Order of the Arrow Insignia where the other emblems are only temporary insignia when used on the uniform. It should be realized that this is a great advantage and a compliment to the Order of the Arrow. -THE ORDER OF THE ARROW HANDBOOK pp. 64 & 72, 1954 printing, 1950 edition

In the 1930s the Scout uniform was a showcase for all sorts of colorful Scouting related insignia on the shoulders, sleeves, and collars, as well as above and on the pockets. In fact, the only areas of the Scout uniform spared from this potpourri of decoration were the back of the shirt and pocket flaps. The pocket flap eventually became the official location for wearing Order of the Arrow insignia, but not without a few twists and turns.

The usage of Order of the Arrow insignia posed an interesting dilemma for the Scouting Insignia Committee, since prior to 1935, the Order of the Arrow was not even an official part of the Boy Scout program. Thus, how could OA insignia have any legitimate place on the Scout uniform? Early insignia mostly consisted of totem pins intended for civilian wear only. Those patches that were created typically were for wear on Indian costumes and sweaters.

As time progressed, the idea of OA insignia was encouraged.  In 1945 the OA received approval to wear patches on the Scout uniform.  By 1948, the year the Order of the Arrow was fully integrated into the Boy Scouts of America, the new Order of the Arrow Handbook written by National OA Committee member and long time badge collector J. Rucker Newbery, devoted two entire pages to pictures of local lodge insignia. At the same time that the official Handbook encouraged the use of “cloth insignia” for identification, the 1948 edition of the Order of the Arrow Handbook contained an omission and an inadvertent inclusion that would change the history of OA insignia forever.

The omission was the OA Handbook advocated the use of lodge insignia, but failed to specify where this insignia was to be worn. While such an omission would seem inconsequential at first glance, the official location of no other Scouting insignia was left to the imagination of the wearer. The net result of this omission was that local lodges were left to decide where to wear their insignia.

Several different locations were chosen. Mazasha Lodge of Mankato, Minnesota wore its badge on the right shirt pocket while Ay-Ashe Lodge of Manitowoc, Wisconsin wore its badge on the merit badge sash. Blue Ox Lodge of Rochester, Minnesota wore its badge above the right pocket where a jamboree badge would go, and Chappegat Lodge of New Rochelle, New York wore its badge slightly lower, resting on top of the program strip that said Boy Scouts of America. In yet more examples, Achtu Lodge of Jersey City, New Jersey located its badge on the right shoulder of the uniform and Siwinis Lodge from Los Angeles, California wore a tree-shaped badge on a neckerchief. Massasoit Lodge from Quincy, Massachusetts wore its badge on a Scout jacket and Tamet Lodge from Santa Monica, California wore its badge on the red and white arrow sash. Other lodges still wore their totem badges on Indian costumes and sweaters.

The inadvertent inclusion on page 21 of the 1948 edition of the Order of the Arrow Handbook was profound. At the bottom of that page was pictured a dark badge depicting a leaping stag. Behind the stag was an arrow pointing left. What made this patch remarkable was its shape. While Order of the Arrow badges and totems existed in almost every conceivable configuration, this badge was unique in its squat inverted pentagon form that unmistakably resembled the flap over the pocket of the Scout shirt. In fact, this badge was made in the exact colors of Scout shirts of its day, khaki and “Explorer” green and was worn by its lodge members on the right shirt pocket flap. This was, in fact, the first flap badge.

The members of Ajapeu Lodge of the Bucks County Council, Doylestown, Pennsylvania issued this first flap pre-1947. Unconfirmed reports list the date as early as 1943. It is not known who thought of the idea for a flap-shaped badge or who designed the first flap for Ajapeu Lodge. One story about its inception is that during World War II an unknown Scout’s mother actually embroidered the stag and arrow design directly onto the uniform flap for those Scouts inducted into the OA. Another account has a local tailor embroidering the shirts for the Arrowmen of Ajapeu on the right shirt pocket flap. How much of the story is fact and how much is folklore is not known. What is known is that after World War II this design was Swiss embroidered into large, un-bordered pieces of cotton twill material and then crimped by lodge members to fit the shape of the pocket flap.

The 1948 first edition of the OA Handbook was distributed that summer to the delegates in attendance at the National Conference and many Arrowmen went home with either the flap or the story of the flap insignia from Ajapeu Lodge. As the Handbook was later dispersed to all Arrowmen across the country, every lodge had an opportunity to see the unusual pocket flap badge with the leaping stag. Apparently not many lodges were quick to act. Of the more than two hundred and fifty lodges that had badges by the summer of 1950, less than five of those lodges chose the pocket flap shape and design for their patch.

In fact, the problem still remained: Order of the Arrow insignia had been authorized without specifying the exact location where such insignia was to be worn. This problem was solved in the very next printing of the OA Handbook. On page 62 of the 1950 edition it stated: “It (the embroidered emblem) may be worn on the right shirt pocket of the uniform.” This, of course, was the same location where temporary insignia was worn.

After release of the initial printing of the 1950 edition of the Handbook, an even greater problem was discovered. The BSA Insignia Committee became aware of the fact that the OA Handbook was circulating showing a piece of insignia that was meant to be worn on a place of the Scout uniform that was not allowed. When the second printing of the 1950 edition of the Handbook (in 1951) was published, the picture of the badges now appearing on page 19 had been reshot, being identical to the original photo in every respect except one: the Ajapeu flap was missing and in its place was a round badge from So-Aka-Gha-Gwa Lodge of Bloomington, Indiana.

While some Arrowmen may have noticed the new omission from the Handbook, the vast majority of members were unaware of the fact that pocket flap badges were not allowed. Lodges, apparently oblivious (or in defiance) to the no flap rule, made pocket flap badges.

In 1952, Dwight W. Bischel published The Wabaningo Lodge Emblem Handbook. The first real text on Order of the Arrow badges, Bischel’s book showed seven different lodges having flap shaped emblems. It is now known that there were at least seven other lodges that had flap badges at the time of Bischel’s book.

By the 1953 National Scout Jamboree in California, the notion of the pocket flap was catching on, and certainly those in attendance could not help but notice the proliferation of pocket flap badges worn by the delegates. At this point, the Insignia Committee was faced with a dilemma. On one hand, it could outlaw the unofficial insignia. On the other hand, rather than trying to squash what had become a grass roots movement, it could go with the flow and make official what was already becoming a matter of practice.

In 1954 the BSA National Committee on Insignia declared the right shirt pocket flap as the official location for Order of the Arrow insignia. By 1960, ninety percent of the active lodges wore pocket flap badges. The last active original lodge (Cherokee Lodge, Birmingham, Alabama) to resist developing a flap shaped patch made the conversion complete with the issuance of its first flap in 1973.