On July 14, 1915, Stephen Mather hosted a party in Visalia, California, for influential conservationist
s and businessmen. Mather promote
d the idea of creating a single federal
agency to manage America’s far-flung national park
s—including Yellowstone in Montana, Yosemite in California, Crater Lake in Oregon, and Mesa Verde in Colorado. Mather and his supporters thought a unified agency could better organize and protect the parkland.
Mather himself was a powerful businessman, having made his fortune in California’s borax
industry. (Borax was mine
d for use as a key ingredient in detergent.) He was a passionate conservationist, and, having resigned from his business, worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior. He immediately began lobby
ing for the creation of an agency to manage the national parks.
The group of men who gathered at Visalia’s Palace Hotel on July 14 included Gilbert Grosvenor, president of the National Geographic Society
; Ernest O. McCormick, vice-president of the Southern Pacific Railroad; Mark Daniels, a landscape architect
who was consulted in the design of hotels around Glacier National Park in Montana and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington; Robert Marshall, chief geographer
of the USGS
; Henry Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History; and Rep. Frederick H. Gillett (R-Massachusetts), a powerful leader on the House Appropriation
The morning after enjoying a Mexican meal in the warm California weather—“the coolest condition was the Tabasco sauce,” Mather’s assistant Horace Albright said—the 30-man Mather party set off on a ten-day trek
through nearby Sequoia National Park. The trek was luxurious
, with meals prepared and cater
ed by the USGS’ exemplary
Chinese chefs and served on white linen
tablecloths. Horses and pack mules carried the party’s cargo
. The party hiked through redwood forests, swam in the Kern River, and even ascend
ed Mount Whitney.
The trek through the national park convinced the party a national park agency was a goal worth pursuing. Grosvenor and other journalist
s featured stories and photos of national parks in their newspapers and magazines. McCormick organized railroads to provide reliable transportation
to national parks. Osborn encouraged the scientific community to support national parks. Gillett worked to create a new federal agency: “It was entirely due to [Mather’s] generous hospitality
that I was introduced to [Sequoia National Park’s] wonders and imbued with some of the enthusiasm
for the development of all our national parks.”
The Mather Mountain Party was incredibly successful. Less than a year later, the National Park Service was created, with Stephen Mather as its first director.