History of Commissioner Service
In the first days of the new BSA, units were organized by someone simply raising their hands or getting the materials from England and this person would serve as the Scoutmaster of that Troop. After a few months, several Troops would be formed in a community, each with various levels of consistancy. The small National office, working from New York City, was trying to manage all of these new Troops and also working through a lot of inconsistancies...in uniforming (some were using military uniforms, others were making their uniforms using illustrations from the English Boy Scout handbook and other materials, and still others were just "creating stuff which looked like something a boy scout could/would wear". The position of National Commissioner, first held by Daniel Carter Beard, was created to provide some consistancy in uniforming, programming and field operation.
In 1914, the BSA appointed their first Field Commissioners. These men would serve as "field representatives" of the BSA, a term the BSA still uses to describe various professionals working directly with local Councils and units. These Commissioners were given the authority to form new units and to remove the commissions from volunteers if need be. These Commissioners were also the BSA's representative for the issuance of special awards like lifesaving and the new Life, Star and Eagle Scout awards.
In 1916, the BSA looked at those Commissioners with proven "track records" and asked them if they would be willing to serve as Scout Executive. Several did take them up on the offer, and with this, employed their first field executives.
In 1921, the BSA separated the role of the executive from that of the commissioner and established both jobs as the "administrators" of the Boy Scout program in America. This established the partnership between volunteer and professional which continues to this day, with two volunteers and a professional making key decisions at the Council level.
(the other volunteer being the Council President)
In the middle 40s, the BSA established the "Neighborhood" (now called Unit) Commissioner as the BSA grew. The first Commissioners were Council Commissioners and as Councils divided their large terrorties into Districts, they also appointed Commissioners to serve those Districts. Remember that a District would take in several countries and typically would only have eight to 12 Troops).
The Neighborhood Commissioner would serve no more than four Troops.
In the late 60s, the term "Neighborhood" was changed to "Unit" and the Commissioner structure changed. "Deputy District" and "Deputy Council" Commissioners were out and replaced with "Assistant District" and "Assistant Council".
In the 70s, the BSA experimented with several District organizations. One experiment created something called a "Zone Commissioner" which did not go over well. However, some Districts had a great deal of success with "stovepiping" the Commisisoner work so that Cub Scouting Pack Commissioners reported to an Assistant District Commissioner or a Assistant District Cub Scout Commissioner and then to a District Cub Scout Commisisoner; the same would go for Boy Scouting.
The BSA abandoned the "stovepipe" program nationally in the early 80s, but there were Councils who still used it and the BSA provided the emblems and materials until the first part of the 90s.
In the first part of the 90s, the BSA re-established the National Commissioner position and attempted to place an African-American in that role. Unfortuantly, the BSA did very little to provide guidance as to what would be the role today of the National Commissioner other than to serve as a national cheerleader for the BSA's field Commissioners.
He resigned and the BSA went without a National Commissioner for four years. We are now into our third National Commissioner, whose role is to develop national unit service programs and Commissioner training programs.
This is a thumbnail...it's not complete and I am sure that I'm off the dates a little bit...