Creating a Service to Manage the System
Among those recognizing the need for park management was Stephen T.
Mather, a wealthy Chicago businessman, vigorous outdoorsman, and born
promoter. In 1914 Mather complained to Secretary of the Interior
Franklin K. Lane, a former classmate at the University of California,
about the way the parks were being run. Lane challenged Mather to come
to Washington and do something about it. Mather accepted the challenge,
arriving early in 1915 to become assistant to the secretary in charge of
park matters. Twenty-five-year-old Horace M. Albright, another Berkeley
graduate who had recently joined the Interior Department, became
Mather's top aide.
Mather and Albright took up the crusade for a national parks bureau.
That summer they conducted a leading congressman, the editor of the
National Geographic Magazine, the president of the American
Museum of Natural History, the vice president of the Southern Pacific
Railroad, and other prominent writers, editors, and opinionmakers on an
elaborate pack trip through Sequoia and Yosemite. Gilbert Grosvenor of
the National Geographic Society devoted the April 1916 issue to the
parks, and favorable articles appeared in The Saturday Evening
Post and other popular magazines. Mather hired publicist Robert
Sterling Yard and obtained funds from 17 western railroads to produce
The National Parks Portfolio, a lavishly illustrated publication
sent to congressmen and other influential citizens.
Congress responded as anticipated. Final success came on August 25,
1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the long-awaited bill
establishing the National Park Service. The act gave the Service
responsibility for Interior's national parks and monuments, Hot Springs
Reservation in Arkansas (made a national park in 1921), and "such other
national parks and reservations of like character as may be hereafter
created by Congress." In managing the parks, the Service was directed
"to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the
wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such
manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment
of future generations."
Secretary Lane appointed Mather the first director of the National
Park Service, and Albright became assistant director. Unfortunately,
Mather shortly had to be hospitalized for one of several bouts of
depression he suffered over the years, leaving the youthful Albright to
organize the bureau, obtain its initial appropriations from Congress,
and prepare its first park policies.
The policies, issued in a letter from Lane to Mather in May 1918,
elaborated on the Service's dual mission of conserving park resources
and providing for their enjoyment by the public. "Every activity of the
Service is subordinate to the duties imposed upon it to faithfully
preserve the parks for posterity in essentially their natural state,"
the letter stated. At the same time, it reflected Mather's and
Albright's conviction that more visitors must be attracted and
accommodated if the parks and the Park Service were to prosper.
Automobiles, not permitted in Yellowstone until 1915, were to be allowed
in all parks. "Low-priced camps...as well as comfortable and even
luxurious hotels" would be provided by concessioners. Mountain climbing,
horseback riding, motoring, swimming, boating, fishing, and winter
sports would be encouraged in keeping with the policy that "Every
opportunity should be afforded the public, wherever possible, to enjoy
the national parks in the manner that best satisfies the individual
Natural history museums, exhibits, and other activities supporting
the educational use of the parks would be promoted as well. Interpretive
efforts already underway in several areas soon blossomed into full-scale
programs of guided hikes, campfire talks, publications, and exhibits.
The first full-time park naturalists were appointed at Yellowstone in
1920 and Yosemite in 1921.
Congress would appropriate no money for park museums until the 1930s;
meanwhile, private philanthropy funded museums at Yellowstone, Yosemite,
Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde.
The policy letter also sought to guide further expansion of the park
system. "In studying new park projects, you should seek to find scenery
of supreme and distinctive quality or some natural feature so
extraordinary or unique as to be of national interest and importance,"
it directed. "The national park system as now constituted should not be
lowered in standard, dignity, and prestige by the inclusion of areas
which express in less than the highest terms the particular class or
kind of exhibit which they represent."