Yellowstone – The First National Park

On March 1, 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law.  The world now had its first national park!  This law was the result of the national interest being piqued by several expeditions to study and explore Yellowstone during the prior decade.

Tower Falls and Canyon, Yellowstone National Park. By Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853 – 1921), circa 1876, Albumen silver print. Credit: Sepia Times

Expeditions in 1869 and 1870 served to drive interest amongst scientists and conservationists regarding thermal activity and the abundant species and natural beauty of the Park.  The most impactful expedition perhaps was the 1871 Hayden Expedition, led by Ferdinand Hayden, leader of the US Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories.  Hayden’s team was focused on exploring Yellowstone from a scientific perspective and the group included botanists and scientists specializing in meteorology, ornithology, zoology, mineralogy and agricultural studies.

Mammoth Hot Springs with bare tree trunk in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Credit: Gagliardi Giovanni/REDA&CO

Photographer William Henry Jackson and artists Henry W. Elliot and Thomas Moran also accompanied Hayden, and their dramatic photographs, paintings and sketches helped many in Congress understand the natural significance of Yellowstone and the importance of protecting it.

Montana politician and businessman Nathaniel P. Langford (a member of the 1870 expedition) pushed Congress to consider an act protecting Yellowstone in 1871 and Congress was further inspired and persuaded by the Hayden Expedition’s reports to act.  The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act was created to reserve the Park as “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”.

America Bison (Bison bison) in Yellowstone National Park, USA. Credit: Nano Calvo/VW Pics

Today, Yellowstone is nearly 3,500 square miles in size and although mainly in Wyoming, parts of the Park lie in neighboring Montana and Idaho.  More than 4 million people visit Yellowstone annually to explore its dramatic scenery, marvel at Old Faithful and other geysers and thermal pools, and photograph the hundreds of animal species that call the Park home, including bison, bears and wolves.

For more information about Yellowstone and to plan your trip there, visit:

Source: US National Park Service

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