National Park Service: The First 75 Years
Biographical Vignettes
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Franklin Knight Lane

                                          by R. Dixie Tourangeau

Franklin Knight Lane

Franklin Lane was born on July 15, 1864, near Charlottestown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and died May 18,1921, in Rochester, Minnesota, at the age of 56. His family moved to northern California by the 1870s, and Lane attended school in Oakland and San Francisco. He worked as a newspaper reporter and became a lawyer. As a California Democrat in a Republican era, he lost a close race for governor in 1902; lost the U.S. senatorial confirmation in 1903; and lost the San Francisco mayoralty campaign in 1903.

He was appointed to the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt and became chairman in 1913. Two months later, Lane was selected as secretary of the interior by President Woodrow Wilson. For health and financial reasons, he resigned March 1, 1920. During this era, it was often said that Franklin Knight Lane could have been elected president — except for his Canadian birth. He always seemed to respond to any "duty call" concerning his adopted land, serving in many government positions. He was considered a "champion of the common man" and fair-minded, yet strict in his decisions.

Though his "utilitarian" philosophy regarding natural resources (especially water storage and use) was at times fanatical, his ultimate intentions were never malicious. In Park Service lore, he will be remembered chiefly for three things: being a primary advocate for Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Dam: coaxing Stephen T. Mather to come to Washington to organize and run what would become the NPS; and being the secretary of the interior under whose administration the National Park Service was penned into existence.

As secretary of the interior, Lane visited many park areas between 1914 and 1918. He toured pre-national park Acadia (Sieur de Monts National Monument) with its "foundling father" George B. Dorr and struck up an immediate friendship with him. His fondness for Dorr and his excitement over the park clinched the area's national park designation. Though Mather and Albright sharply protested some of Lane's resource management ideas, the secretary nearly always stood behind his chiefs, giving strength to a far-flung, under staffed, infant agency operating on an inadequate budget.

Debate on Franklin Lane's total contribution to the NPS may spark pro and con arguments forever, but certainly he is largely responsible for putting a special process in motion, the success of which we celebrate 75 years later. He craftily challenged just the right person at the right time with the right words: "If you don't like the way things are run, Mr. Mather, come to Washington and run them yourself."

From National Park Service: The First 75 Years


Last Modified: March 27 2017 02:00:00 pm EDT

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