Have these changed any over the years? Except to add different models to the list? Or are they still made the same, that is, if you bought one today, could you tell the difference, verses one made years ago?
Sure. The can openers changed at least three distinct times. The awls changed several times. As did the bail attachments. Stainless was a real innovation when it first appeared in the scout/utility knives.
Here is a Camillus made Dunlap for Sears pre-WWII (circa 1939):
And here is the previous generation can opener from Dwight Divine's Ulster in 1925 (who, by the way, shared the rights to the Official Boy Scout knife with NYKC)
You are already familiar with the "safety can opener" patented in 1945 and still in use.
Official Boy Scout and Cub Scout knives have been made by a number of companies. The early knives - pre WWII - were made by the very best companies: New York Knife Co.; Remington; Ulster (the original Ulster by Dwight Devine); L.F.&C. They had F&F, blades, and springs of the highest quality.
Other companies made the knives later: Cattaragus; Marbles; Schrade; Pal; Ka-Bar (Union); Kingston; Imprial; Camillus; Western; Schrade Walden; Buck; Victorinox SAK-style); Ulster.
There are many styles, but the basic knife with its Spear main, can-opener; punch; screew-driver/cap-lifter -- all in carbin steel, has been part of the Boy Scout line since the beginning.
There have also been whittler -- all blade - patterns.
If you refer to currently-available offerings, I would opt for the Victorinox models as best.
If you mean "ever," I can only repeat that early Boy Scout knives were from the highest quality makers and made to the high standards of their regular offerings (- although not with ebony or stag handles. They generally used bone on the BSA knives.). Hard to think of an analogy since production knives are not made to that standard any more.
You'll see in the knife page that there is a blend of old school and new. More SAK and SAK-type patterns with BSA logos. I believe Camillus is still making the old school styles.
One thing you will find through all the years of scouting. As Thomas said, the official BSA knives were of very good quality. I am sure companies had some type of criteria to meet quality-wise and design-wise to carry out the contracts. The knives had to be built to withstand alot of use/abuse at the hands of boys. Unfortunately, there are not as many companies out there to bid on and produce these BSA knives, probably the reason for the choices in SAKs.
Sadly, even the attitude in the BSA ( except the hardcore scouters) has relegated the BSA knife to just another item in the pack. Gone are the days when the scout had his knife on his belt or in his pocket at all times. In fact, as recent as a couple years back at a Resident camp I was at for Cub Scouts, scouts were prohibited from carrying pocket knives around the grounds. WTF?
And just try to buy a fixed blade knife now. I don't think you will be able to find one, they just don't offer them anymore.
B.S.A. policy, by negative implication, contemplates use of fixed-blade knives. Only "large" fixed-blade knives are "discouraged." That leaves "non-large" FB knives as approved for use.
The Offical Chef's Kit contains two fixed-blade knives. They are for food prep, to be sure, but they require handling as fixed-blade knives (i.e., cannot "close" to pass or transport).
Yet Tot'N'Chip no longer requires demonstration that one knows how to safely use fixed-blade knives and the Handbook no longer presents those skills.
I doubt that this is a "political" (as in "PC") statement. It is merely another evidence of minimal competence at the top. The same folks tout tents with fiberglass poles and vinyl ponchoes. The latest catalog from BSANSS shows a match case full of full-sized strike-anywhere matches; however, that case will not close on such matches. It crushes the tips. The small matches must be used. And so on.
Not having been in the Scouts in this century (or the latter part of the last), I was curious about the current status of knife use/recommendations in the scouts. I did a web search, and it seems that the content of the above post is pretty accurate. In any case, there seems to be no National rule on the issue of fixed or folding knives, just recommendations, and the "rule" is left to individual councils and camps. I'll see if I can re-find that link.
I was surprised at the bredth of some of the rules. Pertaining to fireworks, lanterns and stoves, chainsaws and axes, ATVs, firearms, bows and arrows, hunting and trapping, etc.
Perhaps liability plays a role in a lot of the rules. "Back in the day", scouts got injured falling from signal towers, fire, cuts, slipping off a log into a creek, but I don't recall anyone sueing, or threatening to sue the scoutmaster, the troop, the council, or national. Come to think of it, I don't recall any violence in meetings or camps. OK, an occasional round of fistfight where both participants lost. We live in an evolving society for sure. Maybe I've lived past my day and time.
I remember boys being proud to just have an official shirt, or even a neckerchief tied around their neck. A complete uniform was not a requirement for participation. Out of curiosity, what is the retail cost of a complete uniform, head to foot these days? No equipment or books (we shared those too), just the uniform.