Centenary of the U.S. National Parks Service

United States #756 (1935)
United States #756 (1935)

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the United States National Parks Service, created by President Woodrow Wilson.  The first public reservation in the country was Yellowstone National Park which had been established in 1872.   There are now over 450 natural, historical, recreational, and cultural areas throughout the United States, its territories, and island possessions designated as National Parks, National Monuments, National Memorials, National Military Parks, National Historic Sites, National Parkways, National Recreation Areas, National Seashores, National Scenic Riverways, National Scenic Trails, and others.

The national park idea has been credited to the artist George Catlin who traveled the northern Great Plains of the United States in 1832. He became concerned about the destruction of the Indian civilization, wildlife, and wilderness as eastern settlements spread westward. He wrote, “by some great protecting policy of government… in a magnificent park… a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild[ness] and freshness of their nature’s beauty!”  Catlin’s vision had no immediate effect. In the east, romantic portrayals of nature by James Fenimore Cooper and Henry David Thoreau and painters Thomas Cole and Frederick Edwin Church began to compete with prevailing view of wilderness as a challenge to overcome. Slowly unspoiled nature and spectacular natural areas of the West became better known, the idea of saving such places became of interest.

In California, several state leaders sought to protect Yosemite Valley. In 1864, U.S. Senator John Conness of California sponsored an act to transfer the valley and nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state so they might “be used and preserved for the benefit of mankind”. President Abraham Lincoln signed this act of Congress on June 30, 1864. California was granted the valley and the grove on condition that They would “be held for public use, resort, and recreation…inalienable for all time.”

The Yellowstone country was first “officially” explored by David E. Folsom, Henry D. Washburn, and Ferdinand Hayden in 1869-71. A myth evolved that near the end of the Washburn expedition, discussion around the campfire led several of the members to suggest that the area be set aside for public use and not allow it to be sold to private individuals. This myth was successfully exploited by National Park advocates but eventually was debunked by historians. An early ally in promoting a public reservation was the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. They were seeking major destinations for their route through Montana. This first U.S. national park was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. It’s widely held to be the first national park in the world. In an effort to reduce poaching and other misuse of the park, the U.S. Army established a fort in the area in 1881 and began park protection, establishing a pattern that would be continued by later park rangers.

In 1875, Mackinac National Park was created on a resort island in Lake Huron in Michigan, the second national park. As at Yellowstone, the army garrison at Fort Mackinac were in charge of supervising and improving the park. The fort and the national park were turned over to state control in 1895.  U.S. cavalry units took up a position in California-controlled Yosemite Park in 1891 and took over some management duties. In 1906 the park was completely taken into federal control.

While early emphasis had been on the creation of National Parks, there was another movement seeking to preserve the cliff dwellings, pueblo ruins, and early missions throughout the west and southwest. Often local ranchers would try to protect these ruins from plunder, but pot-hunters vandalized many sites. The effort began in Boston and spread to Washington, New York, Denver, and Santa Fe, during the 1880s and 1890s. Rep. John Fletcher Lacey of Iowa and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, created the Antiquities Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. This was designed to protect antiquities and objects of scientific interest on the public domain. It authorized the President, “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” that existed on public lands in the United States. The Act declared these sites to be National Monuments and prohibited the excavation or removal of objects on Federal land unless a permit had been issued by the appropriate department. Between 1906 and 1933 three Federal agencies — the Departments of Interior, Agriculture and War, initiated and administered separate groups of National Monuments.

Between 1906 and 1916 the Interior Department recommended and Presidents Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson proclaimed twenty National Monuments, the first of which was Devil’s Tower.  This 600 foot (180 meter) high tower of rock in Wyoming was established on September 24, 1906. In December of that year, three more National Monuments were created — El Morro in New Mexico, Montezuma Castle and Petrified Forest, both in Arizona.

On June 10, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6166 which made the National Park Service the sole Federal agency responsible for all Federally-owned public parks, monuments and memorials.  This order also enlarged the national parks idea to include at least four types of areas not clearly included in the System concept before 1933 — National Memorials, like the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty; National Military Parks, like Gettysburg and Antietam with their adjoining National Cemeteries; National Capital Parks, a great urban park system as old as the nation itself; and the first recreational area — George Washington Memorial Parkway. The reorganization also substantially increased the number of areas in the System by adding twelve natural areas in nine western states and Alaska and 57 historical areas located in 17 predominantly eastern states and the District of Columbia.

Soon after taking office in March 1933, Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes requested the Post Office Department to issue stamps depicting National Parks.  The idea had been proposed as early as 1912 and brought up at regular intervals starting in 1925.  Ickes was told that the schedule for 1933 stamp issues had been set, but that it was a possible subject for the future.  He then declared 1934 to be the Year of National Parks and efforts were renewed in January for the issuance of a series of National Parks stamps that year.  He took up the subject with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself a stamp collector, and Postmaster General James A. Farley at a cabinet meeting on March 9, 1934.  Newspapers and the philatelic press began reporting the possibility of a National Parks stamp set and an agreement between Ickes and Farley was reached on March 29.  The Information Service of the Post Office Department issued a press release announcing the series on May 14, 1934.  Subjects and denominations were announced five days later and the first design (for the 2 cent value) was approved by the Postmaster General on June 6.

On June 16, 1934, the Post Office Department issued a press release that stated “Postmaster General Farley announced today that as the series of National Parks postage stamps are to be national in character and due to the trained personnel in Washington, they will be placed on first day sales at the Philatelic Agency in this city as well as at the ten National Parks they are intended to commemorate.”  The same press release also announced that the first of these — a one-cent vertically-oriented green stamp (Scott #740) depicting Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan,  a granite monolith which extends about 3,000 feet (900 meter) from base to summit — was to be placed on sale on July 16, 1934.  The next stamp, the horizontally-oriented two-cent red stamp (Scott #741) picturing Arizona’s Grand Canyon, was issued on July 24.  The remaining stamps were released at various intervals between August and the beginning of October.  These were all printed using the flat plate method (with size variations due to the shrinkage of the full sheets) and perforated 11.

Additionally, the three-cent violet (Scott #741) portraying Mount Rainier and Mirror Lake in Washington and one-cent El Capitan appeared in imperforate souvenir sheets of six issued for stamp exhibitions on August 28 (Scott #750) and October 10 (Scott #751).

In mid-1934, Postmaster General Farley ordered the production of sheets of ungummed imperforated stamps to hand out as favors to political friends and other high government officials. He frequently bought imperforate, ungummed, printed sheets of stamps right off the press. Both Farley and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed in the margins. He presented the first sheet off the press to President Roosevelt and frequently saved the second for his own family and others. He did this twenty times during his tenure. The practice angered the philatelic community and political opponents when exposed. Feeling deprived of access to these unique and invaluable sheets, critics lobbied Congress, demanding justice. President Roosevelt, an avid stamp collector, asked Farley to terminate this policy.

To quell the mounting tension, Farley ordered all twenty sheets reprinted in a special printing without gum or perforations and offered for sale to every American who desired the sheets. These reprints were announced announced in Postal Bulletin No. 16614 which stated that they would be “issued for a limited time in full sheets as printed, and in blocks thereof, to meet the requirements of collectors and others who may be interested.”  This special printing began  on March 15, 1935.

Stamp collectors refer to the scandal and the reprinted sheets as “Farley’s Follies.” Although interesting, these “Farley’s Follies” stamps were not popular with stamp collectors due to the cost of completing their collections and the practice was discontinued later in the year. Farley took this lesson to heart and became a strong advocate for philatelists.

In 1940, the Post Office Department offered to and did gum full sheets of the National Parks stamps affected (Scott #756-765 and #769-770) sent in by their owners.  The initial ten were reprinted in full sheets of 200 while the souvenir sheets were reissued in sheets of 20 panes of six. Few customers took advantage of this service so gummed stamps have premium in value of approximately 10 times the ungummed versions.

The stamp pictured today is a used copy of Scott #756, the imperforate “Farley’s Follies” version of the one-cent El Capitan stamp.  The Bureau of Engraving and printing had been instructed to prepare the design for the original stamp on May 16, 1934.  Several designs were submitted on June 12 and Postmaster General selected one of those on June 15.  The die proof was approved on June 28 and printing started on July 6.  It was available to purchase just ten days later!

The stamp was designed by Victor S. McCloskey Jr. from a photograph of El Capitan in northwestern Yosemite Valley, California.  The photograph had been furnished by the National Park Service.  The vignette was engraved by J. C. Benzing and the frame and lettering by W. H. Wells.  Eight plates were made and used (21246, 21247, 21248, 21249, 21250, 21251, 21252, and 21253) with one additional shade of bright green known as well as a few minor varieties for the specialist. Some 84,896,350 stamps were issued.  These are catalogued as Scott #740.

The Bureau was ordered to print this one-cent design in souvenir sheets of imperforate stamps on September 29, 1934, and work was immediately started.  The layout was approved by W. W. Howes, Acting Postmaster General, and printing was started the following day. The first delivery was made to the post office on October 7 and the stamps were released on October 10, 1934, at the Trans-Mississippi Philatelic Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska from October 8 to 14.  The sheets were placed on sale at the Post Office Department’s Philatelic Agency in Washington, DC, on October 15.  The souvenir sheet consisted of six stamps arranged in two rows of three stamps each surrounded by a narrow border with the following inscription at the left: “Printed by the Treasury Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing;” at the top: “Under authority of James A. Farley, Postmaster General;” at the right: “In compliment to the Trans-Mississippi Philatelic Exposition and Convention;” and at the bottom: “Omaha, Nebraska, October 1934.”

The first delivery of the stamps on October 7 had consisted of 42,000 panes with an additional delivery of 54,000 on the 9th.  In spite of all the philatelic controversies in regard to this type of release, the first day sale was so large that the supply on hand was found to be totally inadequate and it was necessary to send an additional 48,000 panes by airmail on October 10th and another 36,000 sheets the following day.  The first day sale of these souvenir sheets totaled 126,000 and the first day cancellation was said to have been applied to approximately 125,000 of these.

Due to the insufficient supply on hand, the first day cancellations were held over until the 11th although dated October 10.  A comparatively small quantity of covers were canceled in Washington, DC, on the first day’s sale in that city (October 15). This was reported as being slightly over 6,700 copies. Additional printings were ordered but only one plate was made and used (plate 21341). In all, 793,551 panes of six were issued, a total of 4,761,306 stamps.  The souvenir sheets have a catalogue number of Scott #751, while individual imperforate stamps cut from the sheet are Scott #751a.

Scott #756 was issued in full sheets of 200, imperforate and ungummed, as well as blocks of four, on March 15, 1935.  The sheets were only on sale at the Philatelic Agency while the blocks of four were also on sale for first day covers at the main post office — Benjamin Franklin Station in Washington, DC. Thereafter, all sales were restricted to the Agency.  Four plates were used for these special printings (21246, 21247, 21248, and 21249).  There were 14,415 sheets of 200 issued (a total of 2,883,000 stamps) as well as 33,659 blocks of four (334,636 stamps), for a combined total of 3,217,636.

Finally, the souvenir sheets of six were reissued on March 15, 1935 (Scott #769) in full sheets of 120 subjects consisting of 20 panes made up of five horizontal rows of four panes each. As was the case with the other presentation reprints, these were issued ungummed. These being issued in full sheets, it became possible to have pairs with a wide horizontal or vertical gutter between as well as blocks of four stamps divided by a large horizontal and vertical gutter. It was, of course, also possible to obtain pairs of panes as well as blocks of panes.  Some 13,998 sheets of 20 panes each were issued, a total of 279,560 panes containing 1,679,760 stamps.

The Yosemite Valley has been inhabited for nearly 3,000 years, though humans may have first visited the area as long as 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. The indigenous natives called themselves the Ahwahneechee, meaning “dwellers in Ahwahnee.” They are related to the Northern Paiute and Mono tribes. Many tribes visited the area to trade, including nearby Central Sierra Miwoks, who lived along the drainage area of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers. A major trading route went over Mono Pass and through Bloody Canyon to Mono Lake, just to the east of the Yosemite area. Vegetation and game in the region was similar to that present today; acorns were a staple to their diet, as well as other seeds and plants, salmon and deer.

The Mariposa Battalion entered Yosemite Valley in 1851 while they were chasing a group of Ahwahneechee that had been raiding the settlements of early pioneers in the region. Accounts from this battalion were the first well-documented reports of ethnic Europeans entering the valley. Dr. Lafayette Bunnell accompanied the Mariposa Battalion and later wrote a book, The Discovery of Yosemite Valley which was published in 1880.

In 1855, entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings, artist Thomas Ayres and two others were the first to tour the area. Hutchings and Ayres were responsible for much of the earliest publicity about Yosemite, writing articles and special magazine issues about the valley. Ayres’ style in art was highly detailed with exaggerated angularity. His works and written accounts were distributed nationally, and an art exhibition of his drawings was held in New York City. Hutchings’ publicity efforts between 1855 and 1860 led to an increase in tourism to Yosemite.

Concerned by the effects of commercial interests, prominent citizens including Galen Clark and Senator John Conness advocated for protection of the area. A park bill was prepared with the assistance of the General Land Office in the Interior Department. The bill passed both houses of the 38th United States Congress, and was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864, creating the Yosemite Grant. This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park. Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were ceded to California as a state park, and a board of commissioners was proclaimed two years later.

Scottish-born naturalist and explorer John Muir wrote articles popularizing the area and increasing scientific interest in it. Muir was one of the first to theorize that the major landforms in Yosemite Valley were created by large alpine glaciers, bucking established scientists such as Josiah Whitney, who regarded Muir as an amateur. Muir wrote scientific papers on the area’s biology. He became an advocate for further protection by observing the overgrazing of meadows (especially by sheep), logging of giant sequoia, and other damage. He convinced prominent guests including Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, of the importance of putting the area under federal protection. Muir and Johnson lobbied Congress for the Act that created Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890. The State of California, however, retained control of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. In 1903, Muir took a camping trip with then President Theodore Roosevelt. This trip persuaded Roosevelt to return “Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to federal protection as part of Yosemite National Park”.  The National Park currently contains 747,956 acres (1,168.681 square miles or 3,026.87 km²).

El Capitan was named by the Mariposa Battalion when it explored the valley in 1851. The word meaning “the captain” or “the chief” was taken to be a loose Spanish translation of the local Native American name for the cliff, variously transcribed as “To-to-kon oo-lah” or “To-tock-ah-noo-lah“. It is unclear if the Native American name referred to a specific tribal chief or simply meant “the chief” or “rock chief”. In modern times, the formation’s name is often contracted to “El Cap”, especially among rock climbers and BASE jumpers.

The top of El Capitan can be reached by hiking out of Yosemite Valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls, then proceeding west. For climbers, the challenge is to climb up the sheer granite face. There are many named climbing routes, all of them arduous, including Iron Hawk and Sea of Dreams, for example. It is composed almost entirely of granite, a pale, coarse-grained granite emplaced approximately 100 million years ago. In addition to El Capitan, this granite forms most of the rock features of the western portions of Yosemite Valley. A separate intrusion of igneous rock, the Taft Granite, forms the uppermost portions of the cliff face. A third igneous rock, diorite, is present as dark-veined intrusions through both kinds of granite, especially prominent in the area known as the North America Wall.

Along with most of the other rock formations of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan was carved by glacial action. Several periods of glaciation have occurred in the Sierra Nevada, but the Sherwin Glaciation, which lasted from approximately 1.3 to 1 million years ago, is considered to be responsible for the majority of the sculpting. The El Capitan Granite is relatively free of joints, and as a result the glacial ice did not erode the rock face as much as other, more jointed, rocks nearby. Nonetheless, as with most of the rock forming Yosemite’s features, El Capitan’s granite is under enormous internal tension brought on by the compression experienced prior to the erosion that brought it to the surface. These forces contribute to the creation of features such as the Texas Flake, a large block of granite slowly detaching from the main rock face about halfway up the side of the cliff.

Growing up, first in Texas and later in Tennessee, my family took an annual holiday which usually included visiting National Parks throughout the United States which developed my lifelong love affair with natural wonders.  As California natives, my parents took us to several of the parklands in the state including at least one visit to Yosemite.  Oddly enough, I only have two stamps from the 1934-1935 National Parks sets and none more recently issued.  I really need to take care of that in the near future!  I’m particularly interested in the centennial set of 16 stamps issued by the United States Postal Service on June 2, 2016.

 UPDATE (16 September 2016)

United States #756 (1935) MLH
United States #756 (1935) MLH

An upgrade to a mint copy of Scott #756, lightly hinged without gum as issued. Purchased on eBay and received in Thailand on 15 September 2016 — along with the remainder of the 1935 National Parks imperforate reissues, on an album sheet but quickly removed for my own album.

United States - National Parks Set (Imperf. 1935)
United States – National Parks Set (Imperf. 1935)

4 thoughts on “Centenary of the U.S. National Parks Service

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