Discovering the Beauty and Charm of the Wilderness: Chicago Connections to the National Park Service

The National Park Service was established when Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act” on August 25, 1916. The newly formed bureau was charged with the care of the National Park System, which at the time included 35 national parks and monuments. 100 years later, in addition to national parks, the National Park Service oversees more than 400 national battlefields, historic and scenic trails, lakeshores, memorials, military parks, rivers, preserves, and parkways.

Twelve national parks existed in the United States when the National Park Service: Yellowstone (1872), Sequoia (1890), Yosemite (1890), Mount Rainier (1899), Crater Lake (1902), Wind Cave (1903), Mesa Verde (1906), Glacier (1910), Rocky Mountain (1915), Haleakalā (1916), Hawaiʻi Volcanoes (1916), and Lassen Volcanic (1916). Today, there are 58 national parks in 27 states and two territories: American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.

The “Organic Act” states that the National Park Service is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Scientific research was recognized as an important component of this mandate in the 1930’s under an initiative headed by George Wright. Examples of research, including work conducted by the University of Chicago is highlighted in this exhibit. The humanities are also represented indicating the breadth of influence of the national parks on cultures and societies.