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Yellowstone, 1871

Yellowstone, 1871
Photo Credit: William Henry Jackson

The story of how the photographs by a young American resulted in Yellowstone being declared a national park, setting in motion a trend that has ensured the protection of a great many natural habitats in the world


October 01 , 2015
01 Min Read

In this wildlife issue, filled to the brim with national parks and protected areas from around the world, it seemed only fitting to honour the first national park of them all: Yellowstone National Park, which came into being in 1872. A bill was introduced at the end of 1871 in the Senate and the House of Representatives with a proposal to demarcate a tract of land “fifty-five by sixty-five miles, about the sources of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, and dedicates and sets apart as a great national park or pleasure-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The bill was comfortably passed in both houses by February the following year, and in March 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law, setting in motion a trend that has ensured that a great many natural habitats all around the world enjoy protection.

To a large extent, this historical act was made possible by the photographs of a young American photographer and avid explorer, William Henry Jackson. A New York man, and a veteran of the Civil War, Jackson was a painter who became an excellent photographer. His early work of documenting scenery along various railroad routes for advertisements by the Union Pacific Railroad caught the eye of the eminent geologist Dr Ferdinand Hayden, who invited the young man to accompany the 1870 US Government Survey and the subsequent 1871 Hayden Geological Survey of the Yellowstone area as expedition photographer.

None of Jackson’s photos are more famous than this one of Mammoth Hot Springs, which is now an iconic landmark at Yellowstone. What is quite remarkable is that the camera equipment of the time was highly fragile and cumbersome, hardly appropriate for shooting in rough terrain. But Jackson managed to do so with great style and aplomb and his photos of Yellowstone soon became a sensation.


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