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Gifford Pinchot


Gifford Pinchot - Photo courtesy of Gray Towers National Historic Site
  • America's first professional forester, and founder of the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Gifford Pinchot was the leader of the utilitarian wing of the early conservation movement, who served under President Theodore Roosevelt and later as governor of Pennsylvania.
  • John Muir first met Gifford Pinchot in New York in 1893. Muir traveled with Pinchot and others with the National Forestry Commission surveying the problems of the western forest reserves. At that time, they became good friends. The friendship was not to last, however. While Muir crusaded for the preservation of wilderness, Pinchot campaigned for utilitarian use of public lands. Pinchot and Muir became major antagonists on the issue of Hetch Hetchy Valley. The deepening schism between Muir and Pinchot eventually grew into a great split between the preservation wing and the utilitarian wing of the conservation movement.
  • A story by Linnie Marsh Wolfe in her classic biography Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir suggests that Muir and Pinchot had a dramatic heated confrontation and parting of the ways at Seattle's Rainer Grand Hotel in 1897. Char Miller persuasively argues that there is no evidence that this event ever occurred; see his journal article: "What Happened in the Rainier Grand's Lobby? A Question of Sources," The Journal of American History 86.4 (March 2000). Professor Miller writes: "Although many historians have recounted the incident in some detail and believe it signaled an irreparable breach in the men's personal relationship, and consequently in the two wings of the political movement with which they are so strongly identified, there is no incontrovertible evidence that it ever happened.... That does not mean Muir and Pinchot did not have a confrontation at that time, just that the surviving records do not support such a claim."
  • Char Miller has also written a full biography Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism by Char Miller (Island Press, 2001).

  • Recent scholarship contends that Muir and Pinchot were not as far apart as traditionally interpreted by historians and scholars. In his engaging book integrating the stories of both Muir and Pinchot, Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America's Public Lands (2019), author John Clayton concludes that the approaches of these apparent natural rivals are revealed as complementary and interdependent, and their rival perspectives jointly yielded the innovative idea that some landscapes should be collectively, permanently owned by a democratic government.
Photograph of Gifford Pinchot courtesy of Grey Towers National Historic Site.

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