John Muir was a conservationist and is considered the father of the United States National Park System. He appears on the California State Quarter and is one of the most important figures in the state's history. He was also an inventor, writer, teacher, efficiency expert, rancher, botanist, geologist, world traveler, and an explorer. He authored ten books and more than 300 magazine articles in his lifetime. Moreover, he helped create several U.S. parks, including Sequoia, Petrified Forest, Kings Canyon, and Grand Canyon, and Mount Rainier National Parks. He founded the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, and was its president from 1892 until his death in 1914.
John Muir was born in the small, northern coastal town of Dunbar, Scotland on April 21, 1838. He and his family lived in Dunbar until 1849, when his father decided to seek religious freedom and a better life for his family in North America. The family sailed from Scotland to the east coast of the United States, and then traveled by land to Wisconsin, where they settled on a farm near Portage. Although he began school at the age of three, his formal schooling, and with it his study of English, French, and Latin, ended when the family moved to the United States. In Wisconsin, John and his siblings had little time for anything but working hard on the family farm. However, John often woke at one a.m., before his morning chores, in order to read books and build inventions. In 1860, John left the farm for Madison, Wisconsin, where he attended the Wisconsin State University (now the University of Wisconsin - Madison) for the next three years.
Early Adulthood and Travels
From his earliest days as a boy in Scotland, where he explored the ruins of Dunbar Castle and played in the fields and on the seashore, John Muir had a great interest in communing with nature. After leaving university, he traveled throughout the northern United States before settling and working in Meaford, Canada. In 1866, he relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana to work as an engineer at a carriage works and study botany in the great forests that surrounded the city. Following a work-related injury that resulted in the temporary loss of his eyesight, John realized that, "This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons."
He left Indiana on foot for a thousand mile trek to Florida, where he contracted Malaria. While recovering from malaria, he made his way to Cuba, where he settled for a few months while searching for passage to the northern part of South America. Upon reaching South America, he hoped to hike through the woods and find the headwaters of the Amazon River so that he could “float down that grand river to the ocean.” Fortunately for California, John Muir was not able to find a ship to South America. Instead, he sailed to Panama and then on to San Francisco, where he arrived in 1868.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, John Muir asked a fellow on the street for the nearest way out of town that lead to any place that was wild. The man directed him to the Oakland Ferry, which he took across the San Francisco Bay. John Muir left Oakland, on foot, for the Yosemite Valley on April 1, 1868. He lived in the Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains for the next twelve years, more or less, until he married and moved to the town of Martinez, California.
Between 1874 and his death in 1914, John Muir wrote extensively, authoring ten books and more than 300 magazine articles. He traveled to Alaska several times, as well as Australia, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, South America and Africa. He advocated for the creation of Yosemite National Park and helped create several other U.S. parks, including Sequoia, Petrified Forest, Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Mount Rainier National Parks. He was a pioneering conservationist and, in 1890, he founded the Sierra Club in order to “do something for wilderness, and make the mountains glad.” He remained the club’s president until his death in 1914.
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