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[Detail] Pinus scopulorum Reproduction, Jemez Springs, New Mexico

National Parks & Leisure in the 1920s

Students, explorers, photographers, and others educated the public about the devastating effects the industrial age was having on the environment. Through photographs and stories of the remaining untouched landscapes, these pioneers created a movement for conservation that developed into the National Park System. The combination of new wealth and time for leisure made tourism a popular pastime and the national parks, popular destinations.

Twice a year, Professors Coulter and Cowles held ecology classes in remote locations, often in wilderness areas recently set aside as national parks. The collection includes hundreds of photographs of national park lands across the country, from the Everglades in Florida to Mt. Rainier in the Pacific Northwest. Search on national parks to retrieve these images.

A 1927 photograph of an early trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park captures the spirit of anticipation and adventure that marked the opening of scenic wilderness areas. Two young women sporting bobbed hair and short dresses stand in front of a railroad car with a sign reading "Schantz Tours University of Chicago First Botanical Excursion to New Smoky Mountains National Park." See "A University of Chicago Department of Botany Field Ecology Class Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee."

Lake Camp, Yellowstone National Park

Lake Camp, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Photographs of lodges, mountain climbing, and camping reflect the growing popularity of outdoor leisure and organized tourism in the 1910s and 1920s. Search on trail national park, inn national park, and camp national park for images of the facilities constructed for tourists.

  • What impact did tourism and the infrastructure built to support it have on the environment?
  • Do the costs and benefits of tourism balance, or does one outweigh the other?
  • What policies has the National Park Service created to accommodate tourists and minimize their impact on the environment?

For more resources, browse the collections The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 and Mapping the National Parks.