By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed it “under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior.” The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement.
In the years following the establishment of Yellowstone, the United States authorized additional national parks and monuments, many of them carved from the federal lands of the West. All of them managed by either the Department of the Interior, War Department or Forest Service.
To organize the protection and preservation of these spaces for generations to come, on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established.
A geological surveyor explores the lower basin of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, c.1870. (William Henry Jackson/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Tourists ride up a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1909. (Library of Congress)
Tourists boat across Crater Lake, 1912. (Library of Congress)
Tourists slide down a slope in Yosemite, 1903. (Library of Congress)
A member of a government geological survey stands next to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, two years before its designation as a National Park, 1870. (GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)
Tourists peer over a cliff into the Grand Canyon, 1880. (Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Kitty Tatch and friend dance on the overhanging rock at Glacier Point in Yosemite, c.1890. (Fotosearch/Getty Images)
The Annie, reportedly the first boat ever launched on Yellowstone Lake, 1871. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Tourists pose for a picture in front of Yosemite Falls, c.1900. (Jonathan Kirn/Corbis via Getty Images)
Tourists at Old Faithful in Yellowstone, 1901. (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Tourists drive their car on a dirt road along Yellowstone River 1899. (Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
A man stands behind the “Pulpit Terrace” formation at the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, 1904. (Library of Congress)
Tourists look out over the Grand Canyon, c.1900. (Jonathan Kirn/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Geyser Basins at Yellowstone, c.1900. (George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
The gateway arch at Yellowstone, c.1900. (George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
Tourists skate on a frozen lake in Yosemite, c.1910. (Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
A party of tourists in Mt. Rainier National Park, 1911. (Library of Congress)
Tourists ride through Mt. Rainier National Park 1909. (Library of Congress)