Mar 022013


On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became our first National Park! Yellowstone, named for the Yellowstone River that runs through the area, is home to a plethora of natural wonders. The park is more than 3400 square miles in size. That is larger than the size of several states. It is filled with more than 50 different mammal species, as well as the Yellowstone River, geysers including “Old Faithful,” amazing hot springs and geothermal wonders, and much more. The attached photo is an aerial view of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

How did our first national park come to exist? Did the citizens demand protection of the area? Were scientists demanding the preservation of the plethora of species and geologic phenomenon? The answer to both is: “No.” The answer is interesting nonetheless.

It is not clear who first proposed that Yellowstone be preserved as some type of national park. It may have been Thomas Meagher who was the Acting Governor of the Montana Territory. It may have been John Colter who toured the area and prompted others to visit by his descriptions of water shooting up into the sky. It may have been David Folsom whose brother, Surveyor General Henry Dana Washburn, conducted a lengthy study of the area after Folsom toured it himself in 1869. It may have even been an executive of the Northern Pacific Railroad. No matter who first suggest the idea, a series of groups explored the area, and Yellowstone soon became of interest to explorers, railroad owners, and politicians alike.

After attending a lecture by Nathaniel Pitt Langford on January 18, 1871 entitled, “Recent Explorations on the Yellowstone” in Washington D.C., Ferdinand Hayden decided to explore the area. Langford’s lectures were funded by Jay Cooke who financed the Northern Pacific Railroad. Cooke had a decided interest in the public becoming fascinated with the Yellowstone area. The railroad had a government contract to build a line that passed less than 50 miles from Yellowstone. Ferdinand Hayden was the geologist-in-charge of exploring the western territories. He surveyed the area in 1871 after receiving $40,000 in funding from Congress. He received the funding, perhaps, because of his relationship with Speaker of the House James G. Blaine. In 1872, Hayden produced the 538 page “Preliminary Report of the United States Geological Survey of Montana and Portions of Adjacent Territories; Being a Fifth Annual Report of Progress.” This report became instrumental in his efforts to lobby Congress to protect the area. Hayden was aided in his efforts by images of the area created by Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson who accompanied Hayden on his journey. Moran’s well known work “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” now hangs in the Smithsonian.

Senate Bill 392 was proposed by Kansas Senator Samuel Clarke Pomeroy on December 18, 1871. On the same day, Montana Territory Congressional Delegate William Clagett introduced House Bill 764. Both bills proposed that Yellowstone be designated as a national park. Clagett, Hayden, and Langford personally delivered copies of Jackson’s photographs to each member of Congress. California’s Senator, Cornelius Cole, questioned whether protection of the area was necessary because it would only be of interest to tourists rather than industrialists seeking to develop the area. However, there were few other questions raised about the proposed national park. The Senate passed its bill without so much as a roll call vote on January 30, 1872. The House passed its bill with a vote of 115 to 65, but 65 representatives chose not to vote. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law known as “The Act of Dedication.”

You can read the transcript of the Yellowstone National Park Act, as well as view Moran’s paintings and other images of Yellowstone on

You can support the National Park Foundation by visiting:


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