Skip to Main Content

Early Leadership of the NPS [1916-1920s]

1916 - 1920s:
Horace Albright and Stephen Mather, 1924
Mather and Albright strike a balance:

The earliest policies of the NPS emerged from the partnership of Mather, who became its first director, and Horace Albright, his assistant director. More than any others, these two men laid the groundwork for the agency's future. They tried to strike a balance between preservation and visitor use, keeping in mind Secretary Lane's instruction that "every activity of the Service is subordinate to the duties imposed upon it to faithfully preserve the parks for posterity in essentially their natural state."

Photo: Horace Albright and Stephen Mather, 1924

 
Automobiles lined up outside gate at Yellowstone, 1916
Promoting tourism:

Yet Mather and Albright also recognized the importance of fostering tourism. Without public support, Congress refused to allocate funding, and the NPS had to operate on a very small budget. As a result, Mather and Albright worked hard to promote the parks and make them accessible and appealing to the public. They admitted automobiles to Yellowstone to encourage more visitors. They permitted the construction of "low-priced camps... as well as comfortable and even luxurious hotels" on park grounds. (The camps and hotels, which were built and run by the private sector, are an early example of the important role of concessions in the parks.) Mountain climbing, horseback riding, and other recreational activities were encouraged. Mather and Albright also emphasized the educational nature of the parks, incorporating museums, exhibits, and other learning-oriented activities.

In their efforts to promote tourism, Mather and Albright created zoos in some parks, caging animals that should have been wild. They also stocked park lakes and rivers with non-native fish and even eradicated wolves and coyotes from some of the western parks in an attempt to please visitors.

Photo: Automobiles lined up outside gate at Yellowstone, 1916

 
NPS Director Horace Albright
Expanding the system:

A policy letter approved by Secretary Lane developed criteria for the expansion of the park system. It decreed that new parks would possess "scenery of supreme and distinctive quality or some natural feature so extraordinary or unique as to be of national interest and importance."

In the early years, an overwhelming majority of national parks were established in the West, but it was recognized that parks in the East were important as well. Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas, for example, was federally established in 1832, though it was not officially named a national park until 1921. Moreover, parks established in the East —Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, and Mammoth Cave— were closer to more heavily populated regions, meeting a fundamental goal of NPS leadership.

Albright recognized that the most effective way to expand the park system into the eastern states was to make it encompass historic sites. He began lobbying to have eastern battlefields and war memorials, which were then being managed by the War Department, transferred to the Service management. When his arguments failed to convince the necessary politicians, he took a different approach.

Soon after he became director in 1929, in a dramatic departure from the established emphasis on natural resources, he convinced Congress to authorize three new historical parks and place them under NPS administration. The parks —Morristown National Historic Park, George Washington National Monument, and Colonial National Monument— were all in eastern states.

Photo: NPS Director Horace Albright