Frequently Asked Questions: History

Did other national parks exist before Yellowstone?
Some sources list Hot Springs in Arkansas as the first national park. Set aside in 1832, forty years before Yellowstone was established in 1872, it was actually the nation’s oldest national reservation, set aside to preserve and distribute a utilitarian resource (hot water), much like our present national forests. In 1921, an act of Congress established Hot Springs as a national park.

Yosemite became a park before Yellowstone, but as a state park. Disappointed with the results 26 years later in 1890, Congress made Yosemite one of three additional national parks, along with Sequoia and General Grant, now part of Kings Canyon. Mount Rainier followed in 1899.

As an older state park, Yosemite did have a strong influence on the founding of Yellowstone in 1872 because Congress actually used language in the state park act as a model. It’s entirely possible that Congress may have preferred to make Yellowstone a state park in the same fashion as Yosemite, had it not been for an accident of geography that put it within three territorial boundaries. Arguments between Wyoming and Montana territories that year resulted in a decision to federalize Yellowstone.

Can I access the collections online?
The Yellowstone Research Library’s catalog is available through the Wyoming Library Databases (WyLD). Archives collection finding aids may be accessed online. Selected portions of our records have been digitized:

  • Montana Memory Project: Collections include Superintendent's Annual and Monthly reports, maps and drawings, oral histories, and photographs.
  • Open Parks Network: Historic photographs taken by the Park's official photographers and gathered together into thematic albums in the mid-20th century.
  • NPS Technical Information Center: Historic maps and architectural drawings, and related construction reports for all parks in the National Park Service. Use the Search Filters button to select Yellowstone

Can I see the collections when I visit?
Yes, anyone with a research question may conduct research in the Heritage & Research Center in Gardiner, Montana. An appointment is required for archives and museum collection research. The library is open to the public on a regular schedule. Please see the Archives, Library, and Museum Collection webpages for current hours.

What if I don't have a research question?
Free public tours of the Heritage and Research Center offered during summer 2022 every Wednesday, 4–5 pm, from May 30 to September 5.

Last updated: April 11, 2022

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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