NPS History Collection

The National Park Service (NPS) is more than the sum of its parks. It's an idea and an ideal. The NPS History Collection encompass the breadth and depth of the agency's history as it preserves and shares the stories of the history, culture, management, resources, challenges, and successes of the NPS.

Former NPS Director George B. Hartzog Jr. established the NPS History Collection at Harpers Ferry Center as the bureau history collection to serve as a resource for the NPS and the public in understanding our administrative history. He believed that we must understand the past to make good decisions for park resources today and in the future. The collection now comprises over 3.5 million documents and objects.

Use our resources below to explore the many aspects of the NPS, get to know the men and women who manage and protect the National Park System, and celebrate more than 100 years of NPS history.

New! Shared History

Not all NPS history is in NPS museum collections. Shared History features some of the objects and documents in family or personnel collections that help tell NPS stories.

New! Virtual 1923 Road Trip

Hitch a historical ride on a 1923 national park road trip! Travel with Pete and Flo Johnson in their 1920 Buick as they travel across the country and experience the national parks of a century ago in Keeping Up with the Johnsons.

New! 50 Nifty Finds

Explore the collection in more depth through our ongoing series called 50 Nifty Finds which focuses on the stories behind specific objects.

Room with museum cabinets and mannequins displaying uniforms

Behind-the-Scenes Tour

Go behind-the-scenes on a virtual tour of the collection! Discover objects, art, photographs, and uniforms that span more than 100 years of NPS history.
Man looking out at the Colorado River and Grand Canyon National Park, 1890s. Colored lantern slide.

Archives & Manuscript Collections

Documentary materials detailing the ongoing challenges of the NPS mission to preserve park resources unimpaired for future generations while making them accessible for today's visitors. Start by searching our finding aids to learn more about the cataloged collection. Please contact the archivist to discuss your research topic further or for help locating what you need.

Cleopatra Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park, 1890s. Colored lantern slide by Henry G. Peabody.

NPS Historic Photograph Collection

Images of America’s special places, the people that care for them, and the visitors that love them. Search our online selection from the 400,000 images in the collection to see if there is anyone you know or anywhere you have been. Find out who the NPS Eminent Photographers were, and how their work contributes our understanding and enjoyment of national parks.

Auto tour passing Sylvan Lake in Yellowstone National Park, 1916. Colored lantern slide by Haynes.

NPS Oral History Collection

Stories of NPS history, adventure, humor, tragedy, camaraderie, and family told by the men and women of the the NPS In Their Own Words.

Ranger with binoculars looking out from the fire lookout at Twin Sisters Peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1916. Colored lantern slide.

NPS Uniform Collection

The NPS uniform is an iconic symbol of our staff and mission recognized around the world and one we wear with pride. Click the title above to learn how the uniform has changed over time.

Overlooking nature’s grandest scenery with Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yellowstone National Park, 1915. Colored lantern slide.

Object Collection

Discover objects that connect people to our history from before the founding of the NPS to today. Search the NPS Web Catalog to see a selection of objects, check out our 50 Nifty Finds articles, or take a virtual tour of our collection storage area.

Learn More about NPS History

The following resources can help you learn more about our history:

Frequently Asked Questions

The National Park Service (NPS) History Collection acquires and preserves a wide variety of objects and documents that reflect the history of the bureau, its mission, and its employees. As American society has changed, so too has the NPS. Practices, attitudes, and language that were once common in some segments of our society are no longer considered acceptable.

The NPS History Collection, like other museums and archives, contains documents, images, and objects that reflect those earlier attitudes and events. Some content may be harmful or difficult to view as it may:

  • reflect racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes;

  • be discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, and more; or

  • include graphic descriptions or images of historical events such as assaults, accidents, violent death, terrorist acts, natural disasters, hunting or trapping, and more.

Although NPS History Collection staff cannot change the historic documents or images, they can work to assess and update descriptions that are harmful and to establish standards to prevent future harmful language in staff-generated descriptions. NPS History Collection staff will also:

  • identify potentially harmful content as collections are processed;

  • inform users about the presence and origin of harmful content, when known;

  • revise descriptions and standardized sets of descriptive terms, as needed;

  • prevent bias and exclusion in our acquisition and digitization policies; and

  • continue the NPS institutional commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

If you have questions or concerns about potentially harmful content in the NPS History Collection or as found on our websites, digital asset management systems, or in our finding aids, please contact the archivist.

Museum collection storage areas are not open to the public. The NPS History Collection is available for research by appointment only. Everyone can enjoy our virtual tour of the collection.
The NPS History Collection is generally available for research by appointment weekdays only from 9:30am-4:30pm. Staff tries to accommodate requested appointment days and time, but alternative days or times may be necessary as staff and space are limited.
Contact the archivist for more information. Before scheduling a reseach appointment, the archivist will discuss your research topic with you to get a better sense of how the collection may meet your needs and to coordinate the visit.
All requests for copies of materials from the NPS History Collection must be submitted on the user agreement form, available here. Federal employees seeking copies for official business should use the federal user agreement form. Once completed please email them to the archivist.
Currently there is no cost for scans of photographs or documents in the NPS History Collection. A cost recovery program may be implemented in the future. This information will be updated if such a program is implemented.

Last updated: March 28, 2024