Happy 145th Birthday, Yellowstone National Park!

This blog post was co-authored by Aaron Arthur

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. This legislation, officially named “An Act to Set Apart a Certain Tract of Land Lying Near the Head-Waters of the Yellowstone River as a Public Park,” described 3,472 square miles of wilderness in the Montana and Wyoming territories which would be “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground  for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The 1872 legislation also placed Yellowstone under the control of the Secretary of the Interior, who was expected to “make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary…such regulations shall provide for the preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition.” With President Grant’s signature, the Federal Government simultaneously established the first national park, as well as introduced the idea of the government playing a role in preserving our natural resources.

In recognition of Yellowstone’s 145th Birthday, the Still Picture Branch has gathered photographs that document Yellowstone’s beautiful landscape and the environment. There are over 1000 images of Yellowstone available in our catalog, which you may browse through by clicking here!

Record Group 57, HS Series (57-HS): Hayden Survey, William H. Jackson, Photographs, 1869 – 1878

On June 1, 1871, Ferdinand V. Hayden began an exploratory survey of parts of the American West that included the land that is now known as Yellowstone National Park. The expedition consisted of 32 men, including the young photographer William Henry Jackson, whose stunning photos are among the earliest and most celebrated images of Yellowstone. This series of images has been digitized and is available in our online catalog.

Record Group 79, AA Series (79-AA): Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, 1941 – 1942

Legendary American photographer Ansel Adams took some wonderful photographs of Yellowstone National Park in 1941-1942. The photographs were initially intended to be a part of a Department of the Interior project to commission mural sized images for its Washington, D.C. headquarters. The project was abandoned indefinitely at the start of World War II; fortunately, the images captured by Adams remain as a testament to the beauty of one of our greatest national parks. This series of photographs has been digitized and is available in the NARA catalog.

Record Group 377, C Series (377-C): Photographs from the Photographic Catalog, ca. 1962 – ca. 1969

The United States Travel Service Photographic Catalog was maintained during the 1960’s and was intended to be used for advertisements that promoted tourism.  As a result of the collection, there are many great photos within the series highlighting the wonders of Yellowstone National Park.

Record Group 412, EPD Series (412-EPD): Digital Photographs Relating to the Environment, ca. 1996 – ca. 2003

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created and maintained images for use in agency publications, web pages, reports and presentations. As such, the EPA has created many photographic documents of Yellowstone National Park. Their digital series of photos, 412-EPD, is available online and includes photographs of Yellowstone, as well as photographs of other environmental marvels.

Record Group 406, NSB Series (406-NSB): Digital Photographs Relating to America’s Byways, ca. 1995 – ca. 2013

The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) accumulated and maintained these images as a visual record of roads designated as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads by the United States Department of Transportation based on archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities. These photos are available in the NARA catalog


Interested in learning more about Yellowstone records at the National Archives? Check out our past blog posts!

Kodacolor Decoded: Early Color Footage of Yellowstone National Park

An Update on Kodacolor Decoded

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