Yellowstone at 150 Years
March 1, 2022, marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. Join us and Yellowstone National Park in 2022 as we reflect on the past 150 years, explore what makes Yellowstone wild and unique, and take steps together to ensure the park remains inclusive and impactful for the next 150 years and beyond.
History of Yellowstone
Yellowstone was established as the world’s first national park by an act of Congress and signed into law on March 1, 1872, by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Yellowstone is located at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Columbia Plateau. For more than 10,000 years before Yellowstone’s designation as a park, Native American people lived, hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian, and used thermal water for religious and medicinal purposes. The first people that called Yellowstone home throughout history were the land’s first conservationists, protecting it for its important resources and cultural significance.
Today, the National Park Service recognizes 27 individual Tribes with historic and modern-day ties to Yellowstone: Assiniboine and Sioux, Blackfeet, Cheyenne River Sioux, Coeur d’Alene, Comanche, Colville Reservation, Crow, Crow Creek Sioux, Eastern Shoshone, Flandreau Santee Sioux, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine, Kiowa, Little Shell Chippewa, Lower Brule Sioux, Nez Perce, Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux, Salish and Kootenai, Shoshone–Bannock, Sisseton Wahpeton, Spirit Lake, Standing Rock Sioux, Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa, Umatilla Reservation, and Yankton Sioux.
In the early 1800s, European-American trappers returned home from trips west of a place where the earth hissed and bubbled, where multicolored hot springs and spouting geysers filled the landscape. These reports were largely dismissed as delusions or tall tales until formal expeditions of what is now Yellowstone commenced in 1869.
These early expeditions resulted in reports of hydrothermal features, huge waterfalls, canyons, and herds of wildlife that fueled curiosity in American politicians in Washington, D.C.
Further proof of Yellowstone’s unique geothermal and geologic features in the form of Thomas Moran’s artwork and William H. Jackson’s photographs are said to have helped convince Congress that the Yellowstone landscape was worth protection.
Those urging Congress to officially protect Yellowstone believed it could be done at no expense to the government. This concept was quickly disproven when the first, unpaid, superintendent saw the consequences of having no funds to protect park wildlife and other resources. Poachers, vandals, and squatters ran rampant in the newly formed park.
Congress appropriated funds for protection in 1878, but efforts to safeguard the park were largely unsuccessful until the U.S. Army took charge in 1886. The National Park Service management of the park in 1916.
The Yellowstone boundaries we are familiar with today differ from the straight, rectangular-shaped boundaries in place when the park was established. In 1929, President Hoover signed a bill changing the borders to better conform to natural land and water features. Three years later, Hoover issued an executive order adding around 7,000 acres above the original north boundary near Gardiner, Montana, to provide winter range for ungulates.
In 1933, the Yellowstone Library and Museum Association was created, an early precursor of what is now Yellowstone Forever.
Today, Yellowstone is one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth, and preserves over 10,000 hydrothermal features—more than the rest of the world combined. It is home to the largest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48 states, and is the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.
As we look toward the next 150 years of Yellowstone and beyond, Yellowstone Forever and its supporters will continue to play a role in the stewardship of the park.