Organized Camp: 150 Years and Counting

One hundred and fifty years ago, a school teacher took a handful of children on a camping trip, sparking a movement that has become part of the very fabric of childhood — organized camp.

In 1861, Frederick W. Gunn took students from his homeschool program on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful that the tradition continued for twelve years as The Gunnery Camp.

This January, the American Camp Association® (ACA) begins a year-long celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the camp experience. Organized camp has provided millions of children, youth, and adults with independence, friendships, and a lifetime of memories.

With over ninety-five camps that are 100 years old or older, camp is a genuine tradition. Camps offer traditional programming such as hiking, archery, canoeing, horseback riding, swimming, arts and crafts, and endless opportunities to learn life lessons first hand.

At the same time, camp is continually evolving to meet the changing demands of today's families. In the past ten years, ACA has added more than seventy-five new camps. Many camps offer specialized programs — including cooking, surfing, theater, language, marine biology, and many more. These camps are popular with families looking for a targeted focus. There is literally a camp for every child.

In a 1922 speech titled "The Value of Camping," Dr. Charles Eliot, president emeritus of Harvard University, said, "The organized summer camp is the greatest contribution America has made to education."

The pioneers of early camp experiences were educators who, like Frederick Gunn, believed that there was much to be gained by a personal experience with nature and with the lessons learned in the community of camp.

Today, camp remains a critical part of the education and development of the whole child, providing an experiential education in the life skills needed to become successful, contributing adults — skills such as leadership, teamwork, an appreciation for nature, empathy, a greater understanding of the world around them, and so much more. And while the programming and activities offered at camp may change, the essentials have remained the same for 150 years.

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About ACA
The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit