A Wolfsonian Happy Birthday Tribute to Yellowstone National Park

On this day in history, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that established Yellowstone, America’s first national park.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While Native American peoples had established settlements and hunting camps in the region for many hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1807 that an Anglo-American fur trapper and mountain man, John Colter, explored the region. When he returned with fantastical tales of picturesque canyons, terraces harboring sulfurous cauldrons of steaming mud, boiling hot geysers that shot up into the heavens, many first regarded his story with skepticism, derisively nicknaming the region “Colter’s Hell.”



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Howard Gottlieb

It was only after the American Civil War that the U.S. government sponsored formal expeditions into the region. One such exploration led by government geologist Ferdinand Hayden in 1871 included the photographer William Henry Jackson and the landscape artist Thomas Moran. They had been commissioned to visually document the supposed “natural curiosities” and “wonders” of the place.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Howard Gottlieb

Jackson’s photographs of Yellowstone helped build popular enthusiasm and support for the idea of preserving the region as a public parkland. In 1872, Congress passed a bill to preserve as a “pleasuring-ground” more than 1.2 million acres of public land; President Grant signed the Yellowstone Act into law on this day in 1872.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Howard Gottlieb

In the early 1900s, the Detroit Photographic Company produced color lithographic prints from William Jackson’s original photographs using the Photochrom process. The railroad industry distributed such reproductions to encourage and promote travel and tourism to the nation’s first national park and other scenic western destinations.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Howard Gottlieb

Souvenir view books with postcard-sized foldouts continued promote domestic tourist travel to Yellowstone and the nation’s growing number of national parks–though by the 1940s, much of that travel was along the highways rather than railways and in private automobiles rather than railroad cars.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Charles Marshall, Jr.

Later this year, The Wolfsonian–FIU library will be creating an installation of materials such as these to celebrate one hundred years of National Park Service, so stay tuned.


~ by "The Chief" on March 1, 2017.

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