March 31, 2010

History of the Boy Scout Pinewood Car

The story of the pinewood derby starts with Don Murphy, Cub Master for Pack 280C in 1952. Don Murphy wanted to create a new father-son Cub Scout activity he could do with his 10 year old son who was too young to race in the Soap Box Derby, which requires the boy to drive a home made car down a hill. Don’s young son couldn’t wait 2 years to race in the Soap Box Derby, so “Dad” Murphy wanted to invent another activity to do with his son and the younger boys in his Cub Scout Pack. The ideas started percolating in Don Murphy’s mind. His dedication to family values and Cub Scouting ideals, drove him, as stated in the quote above, to develop the idea of racing miniature pinewood derby cars down a track. He just needed to figure out a basic kit for these cars and design a track to race them on.

Don presented his idea of racing miniature pinewood derby cars to the Management Club at North American Aviation where he worked. They sponsored the Soap Box Derby, so perhaps they would also sponsor the first pinewood derby car race. The Management Club was excited about Don’s new idea and agreed to sponsor the very first Pinewood Derby Car racing event for Pack 280C by donating trophies along with funds to make the car kits.

“Pack 280C had seven dens and den mothers,” remembers Murphy, “and totaled 55 Cub Scouts at the time. The original block of wood in the pinewood derby kit was carved down in the forward third to a kind of cockpit. We put the wood, wheels, and nails into a brown paper sack with an assigned number. To race the cars, some Cub Scout fathers built a 31-foot race ramp with two lanes and a battery-run finish line made from doorbells. Light bulbs would identify the winner.”

The pinewood derby car kits were assembled in brown bags, numbered and handed out at the April 17, 1953 Cub Scout Pack meeting held at the Manhattan Beach Scout House. The boys were instructed to complete their pinewood derby cars by May 15th for the big race.

The October 1954 issue of Boys’ Life carried the first description of the pinewood derby; a one page article briefly describing Don Murphy’s Pack 280C pinewood derby race. The very first Boy’s Life pinewood derby article included Don’s pine wood car drawing along with two pictures taken from the first pinewood derby race and concluded by saying, “plans for the track, and starting and finishing line mechanisms may be obtained by sending 15 cents” to Boys’ Life magazine! That was it. There was no mention of car kits yet.