From the very beginning of scouting boys in patrols wanted a way to create a unique identity for the membership in their patrol. Boys took a great deal of pride in their uniform, patrol and troop. Finding a method of creating patrol unity and honoring the uniform was very important to boys. The first method approved by the National Council was the wearing of a colored neckerchief or bandanna. The patrol could choose a color of their choice and then every boy in the patrol would wear the same. Each patrol in the troop was encouraged to select a unique color.
In the Official 1910 Handbook, page 23, the following appears:
“Neckerchief. – Of the colors of your patrol; the neckerchief is worn knotted at the throat and also at the ends, and is tied loosely around the neck.”
The neckerchief or bandanna method was a good start but had color limitations plus there were no official neckerchiefs so troops purchased bandanas from local dry good stores. Purchasing from local sources created variation in the look of the uniform. Creating a class “A” look to the uniform and to scouting was extremely important.
The British Scouts experienced the same issue and in response to the problem the British Scouts created a shoulder knot consisting of four colored ribbons. The four ribbons allowed for a large number of color combinations. The Boy Scouts of America took notice and adopted the same method in 1912.
The announcement about the change in method to identify patrols was published in the November 1912 Boy’s Life, page 19:
“The committee on Badges, Awards, and Equipment of the National Council has decided to change the present method of indicating membership in a given Scout Troop and Patrol. In the future the color adopted by a troop for its own will be shown by means of the bandanna handkerchief which is worn about the neck, while the patrols colors will be indicated by a shoulder knot of ribbon or other material. The use of the bandanna neckerchief to designate troop colors is not in accordance with the statement on page 360 of the appendix of the ‘Handbook For Boys”. But it was thought best to make this change, partly because the range of colors in which neckerchiefs may be secured is somewhat limited whereas any number of patrols would find it easily possible to procure shoulder knots of different colors. This change also conforms to the method of designating troop and patrol colors in England.”
The BSA version of the shoulder knot became available from National Supply in July 1913.