Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

About the Series | Get Involved | TV Schedules | For Educators | Contact Us |

Episode Three: 1915–1919The Empire of Grandeur

  1. Page:
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
Stephen Mather, 1915 Add to Scrapbook

Stephen Mather, 1915

Mather's Mountain Party (continued)

The group worked its way up the western flank of the Sierras – fishing, hiking, and swimming in cold mountain streams. The hardiest of the bunch decided to climb Mount Whitney, from which they could survey the vast wilderness John Muir had wanted preserved.

Mather made converts of them all. At the group's final outdoor supper, he advocated the need for a cohesive National Park Service, and urged his new disciples to go out and spread the word. That evening, Ty Sing prepared a special dessert: a pastry into which he slipped a message written in English and Chinese for each member of the party. On Mather's was written, "The sound of your laughter will fill the mountains when you are in the sky."

By the end of 1915, Mather's year was up – but Congress had still not created an agency to oversee the parks. Mather was willing to remain for six more months, but only if Albright would stay on as well. Albright had plans to get married and start a legal career in California, but in the end, like everyone else, he couldn't say no to Stephen Mather.

Great Northern Railroad timetable for Glacier National Park Add to Scrapbook

Great Northern Railroad timetable for Glacier National Park

The Railways, the National Parks and the "See America First" Campaign

From the very beginnings of the park movement, railroad companies had been selling and advertising America's parks. The reason was simple: more tourists riding the rails to the parks meant more money for the companies. The railroads were a driving force behind the creation of more national parks, and many railroad barons used their political influence with Congress to achieve their goals. The Northern Pacific had been instrumental in the creation of both Yellowstone and Mount Rainier national parks. The Southern Pacific had worked behind the scenes on behalf of Yosemite, General Grant (now part of Kings Canyon), Sequoia and Crater Lake national parks.

Glacier National Park, on Montana's border with Canada, owed its existence in part to the efforts of Louis Hill and his Great Northern Railway. When Congress failed to set aside adequate funds for the park's development, Hill felt free to treat it as his own little mountain kingdom, since he was spending more than $2.3 million to improve it himself.

On every Great Northern Railway brochure and billboard were three words: "See America First." The slogan was part of a promotional campaign aimed at upper-middle-class white Americans from the East Coast who were collectively spending $500 million each year visiting Europe. The Great Northern promoted Glacier National Park as "America's Switzerland."

Blackfeet Indians on promotional tour for Glacier National Park, 1924 Add to Scrapbook

Blackfeet Indians on promotional tour for Glacier National Park, 1924

When World War I broke out in 1914, closing off overseas travel, the railroads saw their chance to promote "See America First" as never before. As a publicity stunt, the Great Northern arranged for a group of Blackfeet Indians to tour the East, performing war dances. They attracted huge crowds and wherever they went, the press referred to them as "the Indians of Glacier National Park."

Stephen Mather enthusiastically embraced the campaign to "See America First." While some purists worried that the railroads already wielded too much influence within the parks, Mather saw them as partners who would help him promote the parks and create a separate park service.

Continued on page 4

A proud tourist points at her National Parks windshield stickers, 1922; David Brower in Glen Canyon, 1966; Dayton Duncan's son, Will, standing at edge of canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park, 1998

Share Your Story

Have you visited a national park recently? Did an experience in a national park leave a lasting impression? Share your unique park story with us.

Discover Your National Parks

Discover Your National Parks

Explore your nearly 400 National Parks and get involved at the National Park Foundation web site.

Own the DVD / Book / CD

Own the DVD / Book / CD

Do you like what you've seen so far? Order your copy of the DVD, the companion book, and CD soundtrack from Shop PBS today!

For Educators

Check out the lesson plans and other materials for teachers and educators.

Bank of America Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr Fund Corporation for Public Broadcasting The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Park Foundation

National Park Foundation The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation The Pew Charitable TrustsGM

THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA is a co-production of

Florentine Films and WETA

 

What is this?

 

Hide this

Show Scrapbook Bar