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A Brief History Of The National Park Service




National Park Idea

Early Growth

NPS Created






Plans and Design





Historic Conservation

Land Planning

State Cooperation


Work Camps

Recreation Study




Antiquities Act

Organic Act

Historic Sites Act

Recreational-Area Programs Act



National Park Service Created

Realizing the specialized nature of national park work and the desirability of unifying the parks into one integrated system, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane in 1915 induced the late Stephen T. Mather to accept appointment as his assistant to take charge of park matters. A keen lover of the out-of-doors, Mr. Mather accepted the appointment because he saw in it an opportunity to devote his energies to the furtherance of national parks. Under his efficient leadership the work was coordinated and expanded, and, on August 25, 1916, President Wilson signed a bill creating the National Park Service as a separate bureau of the Department of the Interior. The Service was organized in 1917.

Senator Reed Smoot of Utah and Representative William Kent of California sponsored the bills in Congress which resulted in establishment of the Service. Representative Kent's bill was passed by the House on July 1, 1916, and the Smoot bill was passed by the Senate as amended, August 5, 1916. (Mr. Kent had previously introduced three similar bills, and one had also been introduced in the House by Representative John E. Raker of California.) The Senate amendments were disagreed to by the House, and conferees were appointed to consider them. The conference report was made and agreed to in the Senate on August 15, and in the House on August 22.

Efforts to obtain the necessary legislation for establishment of the Service had, in fact, been carried on for many years. President Taft sent a special message to Congress on February 2, 1912, in which he said: "I earnestly recommend the establishment of a Bureau of National Parks. Such legislation is essential to the proper management of those wondrous manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the Government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people." As the movement grew it involved the active support of many civic leaders interested in the conservation of lands for parks and recreation. Prominent among these was Dr. J. Horace McFarland of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who is now a member of the Board of Directors of the American Planning and Civic Association. As president for 20 years of the former American Civic Association, which he founded, Dr. McFarland focused public opinion upon the need for a Government bureau to take charge of national parks. The act creating the Service was largely the result of consultation between officials of the Department of the Interior and Dr. McFarland, Frederick Law Olmsted, and the late Henry A. Barker, representing the American Civic Association.

Dr. McFarland's efforts began as early as 1908 when he addressed a conference of governors called by President Theodore Roosevelt to consider measures for conservation of the country's natural resources. He alone, among speakers at the conference, urged the conservation of scenery. Said he:

"The scenic value of all the national domain yet remaining should be jealously guarded as a distinctly important natural resource, and not as a mere incidental increment. In giving access for wise economic purposes to forest and range, to valley and stream, the Federal Government should not for a moment overlook the safeguarding to the people of all the natural beauty now existing. That this may be done without preventing legitimate use of all the other natural resources is certain."

The American Civic Association continued its support of the national park movement, devoting its 1911 and 1912 annual meetings to that subject. When Mr. Lane became Secretary of the Interior in President Wilson's cabinet, Dr. McFarland called on him to urge the establishment of a bureau to administer the national parks. During the period preceding enactment of the bill to create the Service, Dr. McFarland, Mr. Olmsted and others carried on negotiations for keeping Congress informed, and worked untiringly through the American Civic Association for passage of the bill.

Merged in 1935 with the National Conference on City Planning to form the American Planning and Civic Association, the organization founded by Dr. McFarland continues its active support of the national parks.

Mr. Mather became the first director of the National Park Service, and put into his work all the energy and enthusiasm possible for a true lover of nature and one who appreciated the importance of proper control of park areas in order to permit use without damage or destruction. He even spent large sums from his personal fortune to acquire needed additions of land for parks, or to further necessary development operations. He was forced by ill health to tender his resignation on January 8, 1929.

Arno Cammerer
Stephen Mather Since Its Establishment in 1917 the National Park Service has had Three Directors. At left is the late Stephen T. Mather, the First Director. Below is Horace M. Albright who Succeeded Mr. Mather. Arno B. Cammerer, Above, was Appointed Director when Mr. Albright resigned.
Horace Albright

Mr. Mather was succeeded by Horace M. Albright, who had come into the new Bureau as assistant to the Director. Mr. Albright had also served for nine and one-half years as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, and thus was well grounded in the work when he assumed the directorship. Under his leadership the Service established a Branch of Research and Education and expanded its landscape architectural work. The national park system grew with the addition of three national parks and ten national cemeteries during his regime, and, under an Executive Order by the President, was given jurisdiction over park and monument areas formerly administered by the Departments of War and Agriculture.

Mr. Albright resigned as director, effective August 9, 1933, to be come vice-president and general manager of the United States Potash Company, after 20 years of service in the Department of the Interior. He left behind him the most advanced ideas and ideals in conservation of natural resources for recreation, and still maintains his interest in park work as president of the American Planning and Civic Association, and a director of the National Conference on State Parks.

Arno B. Cammerer, the present director of the National Park Service, was appointed to succeed Mr. Albright. He also carried to the office a broad background in park work, having been acting director on many occasions. He entered the Federal Service in 1904 as an expert bookkeeper in the Treasury Department, and was promoted through numerous higher positions to that of private and confidential clerk to several assistant secretaries of the Treasury. In 1916 he was chosen assistant secretary to the National Commission of Fine Arts, serving at the same time as first secretary of the Public Buildings Commission of Congress. In that period he served in various confidential capacities with officers in charge of Public Buildings and Grounds in connection with the parkway system of Washington, the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, and the construction of the Lincoln Memorial and various other monumental structures in the National Capital.

Mr. Cammerer joined the National Park Service in 1919 when Mr. Albright resigned the assistant directorship to become superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. The present director was selected by Mr. Mather and Secretary Lane to succeed Mr. Albright as assistant director. Later, as the activities of the Service expanded, he was made associate director.

Outstanding has been Director Cammerer's work in the interest of the eastern park projects, including the Great Smokies, Shenandoah, Mammoth Cave, and Isle Royale. He represented the Secretary of the Interior personally in negotiations between the Federal Government and the states and various organizations engaged in acquiring the lands necessary for the establishment of these parks, worked out the park boundaries with the various state commissions, and in other ways assisted in bringing the projects materially nearer consummation.

From its beginning, the National Park Service has been as fortunate in the caliber of men attracted to its ranks as in the fidelity of the friends of national parks who worked for the establishment of the Service and have since supported its program.

One of the most valuable men who entered the Service soon after its organization was Roger W. Toll, superintendent of three national parks, who met death in an unavoidable automobile accident in 1936. Mr. Toll's wide knowledge of and experience in mountaineering, engineering, and general park problems made him especially valuable to the Service in the study of areas proposed for national park status, and several months each year he represented the Director in the investigation of such areas.

At the time of the accident which caused his death and the death of George M. Wright, chief of the Wildlife Division, Mr. Toll was serving with his companion as a member of a commission of six appointed by the Secretary of State, at the request of the Secretary of the Interior, and with the approval of the President, to meet a similar committee appointed by the Mexican Government, for the purpose of studying possibilities of international parks and wildlife refuges along the international boundary between the United States and Mexico.

Mr. Wright, although only 32 years old, had also had a distinguished career in the Service. While studying forestry at the University of California, he accompanied Joseph S. Dixon, at that time economic mammalogist of the University, on an expedition to Mount McKinley, Alaska, where he discovered the nest of the surf bird. After graduation, he held positions as ranger and junior park naturalist in Yosemite National Park, and became chief of the Wildlife Division when it was established on May 3, 1933.

U.S. Geological Survey Party
Members of the U. S. Geological Survey Party who Explored the Yellowstone Country Under the Leadership of Dr. F. V. Hayden, are Shown Encamped at Red Buttes, Natrona County, Wyoming, August 24, 1870. In the Picture are: (1) Dr. Hayden, (2) James Stevenson, (3) H. W. Elliott, (4) S. R. Gifford, (5) J. H. Beaman, (6) C. S. Turnbull, (7 and 8) cooks, (9) Cyrus Thomas, (10) H. D. Schmidt, (11) C. P. Carrington, (12) L. A. Bartlett, (13) Raphael, Hunter; (14) A. L. Ford, and (15) W. H. Jackson, Official Photographer of the Expedition.

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