Image of painting titled Photographing The Mount of the Holy Cross

National Park Service
Museum Collections

“One of the most important matters to receive earnest consideration is the early establishment of adequate museums in every one of our parks…” Stephen T. Mather, 1920

The National Park Service museum program had its origins in a modest arboretum at Yosemite in 1904. It is now one of the largest museum systems in the world. The National Park Service preserves not only places of grandeur and national significance but also over 45 million objects and 76,000 linear feet of archives. The collections span the disciplines of art, archeology, archives, ethnography, history, biology, paleontology, and geology.

National Park Service Director Mather recognized the power of collections that are preserved and seen in their original context. He realized that exhibits of museum collections were a way to build public support for the national park idea. In addition to arranging an exhibit of paintings of national park scenes by well-known artists at the Smithsonian Institution in 1917, Mather also developed a traveling exhibit of photographs of park scenery that was extremely popular. 


Image of painting titled Canyon Walls

Image of painting titled Flaming Finale