The term and concept of a national park are believed to have originated with George Catlin, an American artist who wrote the following while visiting the Dakota territory of the United States in 1832: “by some great protecting policy of government… in a magnificent park…. A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty!” Catlin was a noted 19th century, American painter who was particularly interested in visiting and painting the Indians of the Old West during his life. More than 500 of Catlin’s paintings are now part of the Smithsonian Institution. Another 700 of his sketches reside in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. After traveling to the west and meeting with numerous North American Indian Tribes, Catlin became concerned with protecting the Indians, the wildlife and the great wilderness of the western United States. His vision was to have all of these elements (including indigenous peoples) contained within a huge park that was protected by the federal government. In 1841 Catlin published “Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians”. Catlin later spent nearly five years visiting the Indians of Central and South American.
As appreciation for preserving the unspoiled nature of the “West” began to grow in the 1800s, the first step towards a national park took place in 1864. In this year, federally legislation transferred the ownership of the land that is now known as Yosemite National Park to the state of California to “be used and preserved for the benefit of mankind”. Officially Yosemite was not the first national park because at the time it was created it was under the control of the state government, but unofficially, this was the first time that Catlin’s idea of preserving such a grand area of natural beauty in the “West” was put into practice.
Several years later, with Yosemite as a precedent, there was growing support for reserving the land that is now Yellowstone National Park for public use. However, unlike the Yosemite Valley, which lied entirely within the state of California, Yellowstone stretched across two separate territories of the United States. Since it could not be put into the custody of a state government, Yellowstone was instead placed under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior. Yellowstone National Park, officially, became the first national park in the world, when the bill passed Congress and was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. In 1890, Sequoia and Yosemite both officially became became national parks. Today there are 59 national parks in the United States and over 6,000 national parks in nearly 100 other countries throughout the world.
Yellowstone National Park – More Information