National Park Service: The First 75 Years
Biographical Vignettes
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John Muir
1838-1914


                                          by P. J. Ryan

John Muir


John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland, in 1838 and died in Los Angeles, California, in 1914. His family emigrated to Wisconsin in 1849 to work a series of hardscrabble farms under the direction of a religious zealot father, whose fire and brimstone was tempered by a loving and good humored mother. He studied the natural sciences at the University of Wisconsin, but did not take a degree. After recovering from blindness caused by an industrial accident in 1868, he began 40 years of intermittent wandering in the wilderness of North America, which produced some of the best nature writing in the English language. His works include The Mountains of California, Our National Parks, My First Summer in the Sierra, Steep Trails, Stickeen, and others.

Muir's great contribution to wilderness preservation was to successfully promote the idea that wilderness had spiritual as well as economic value. This revolutionary idea was possible only because Muir was able to publish everything he wrote in the four principal monthly magazines read by the American middle class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Scribner's, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Century). This was the present day equivalent of being able to control the content of all three major television networks. As power begets the respect of the powerful, Muir's good will and opinion were sought by some of the most powerful figures in his time; men such as railroad baron Edward Henry Harriman and Theodore Roosevelt. The young borax magnate, Stephen T. Mather was a disciple of Muir's and an early member of Muir's famed Sierra Club.

Although Muir died two years before the creation of the National Park Service, he may not have been entirely happy with the choice of departments to administer his beloved national parks. Muir regarded the Department of the Interior of the time to be staffed by incompetents, if not outright criminals, and much preferred the incorruptability of the guardian of the time, the U.S. Army.


From National Park Service: The First 75 Years




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Last Modified: Dec 1 2000 10:00:00 pm PDT
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