Secretary of the Interior Lane may have somewhat overstated the case
for creating a new bureau to give organizational cohesiveness to the
national parks but not by much. With only a few exceptions, park
resources, visitors, and employees were mutually in harm's way
each a threat to the other. Though 37 national parks and monuments were
extant before the Organic Act was passed on August 25, 1916, the
collection could hardly be called a "national park system."
Citizens with very special courage, skill, and foresight had created
most of the parks and monuments of 1916. Keeping them intact and
preserving their collective integrity demanded the same brand of courage
and foresight, but required fundamentally different skills.
Pioneering is an act of courage, whether driven by desperation,
opportunism or altruism. And joining "the Mather Team" to create a new
arm of the bureaucracy was certainly an act of courage. The
sociopolitical climate of 1916 hardly seemed stable and fertile for such
an effort. People politicians in particular had other
things on their minds.
March 1916, five months before passage of the Organic Act, Pancho
Villa invaded the United States after murdering seventeen Americans
living in Mexico.
April 1916, four months before passage of the Organic Act, British
troops crushed the "Easter Rising" rebellion, executing numerous Irish
July 1916, one month before passage of the Organic Act, the World War
I Battle of Somme, France, saw the successful use of armored tanks
against German troops; but the "winning" French and British lost 600,000
men in the process.
By the end of 1916, production records showed that 1,525,578
automobiles were sold during the year, bringing the total sales since
production began in the United States around 1900 to 4,508,963!
Furthermore, pioneers in other fields were experimenting with new
In sports, the first Rose Bowl game was played (Washington State beat
Brown University, 14-0).
Art of the period modernism, surrealism, cubism, and
abstractionism saw architects, painters, and sculptors exploring
new forms and defying classical parameters of realism.
Literary changes were underway, too. Jack London died in 1916. His
achieving successors that year included James Joyce, Edna Ferber, and
The year 1916, it seems, was indeed a time when courage found many
manifestations and, arguably, ignited others.
Few of the Service's "founding fathers" were skilled in working
within the framework of a federal bureaucracy. Certainly Mather,
Albright, McFarland, Marshall, Yard, and many others brought specific
capabilities to their crusade, not the least of which was an ability to
marshall support from those who did understand the political and
legislative system. The skills of leveraging, persuading, cajoling,
entertaining, and even intimidating were all brought into play for the
benefit of the National Park Service Act and for the parks themselves.
Often these skills were deployed with finesse; other times they were
carried out clumsily. Learning how and when to use the skills of
persuasion were often acts of sheer temerity, and with experience became
matters of judgement.
Foresight is an elusive quality to document. Certainly the men and
women who built the National Park Service were fueled by a vision of a
park system that could be created by their industry, energy, and
personal commitment. But the magnitude of difference between what was in
1916 and what is in 1991 is astounding. This author asked historian Mary
Shivers (Marcy) Culpin if Albright, whom she knew and studied, and
Mather could have imagined, in 1916, the enormity of what might be
preserved in 1991. Marcy confidently affirmed that they did! Such
foresight has been and will continue to be a key
ingredient for all periods of significant growth in the Service.
This book was not conceived and is not meant to be a complete history
nor a comprehensive chronicle of important dates, events, and people of
the National Park Service. It is, at best, a primer about the rich and
colorful evolution of the Service, the organization that safeguards the
system, which some have boldly claimed is "the best idea America has
The personages highlighted in this book are representatives selected
somewhat arbitrarily from the history of the Service. They are not,
collectively, a "who's who" of the organization. They are examples of
the caliber of individuals who significantly contributed to the
integrity of the National Park Service. Their accomplishments and their
lifestyles describe, in Aristotelian fashion, the "culture" of the
National Park Service. That culture is alive, and these are not
obituaries. Role models have always been an integral part of the
National Park Service culture. They are more vital now than ever.
At twenty-seven, only one year after the Service was created, Horace
Albright stepped into the shoes of leadership, becoming acting director
during the one-year absence of a physically and emotionally exhausted
Stephen Mather. In his report to the secretary of interior that year,
Albright observed, prophetically:
"We stand now in the light of a new order of
things, but as we gaze back from the threshold of the future to the
efforts of the past, accomplishments of large importance gather before
us and we recognize in them tremendous influences that will wisely guide
us in our onward and upward steps."
National Park Service