John Muir Biography The Father of National Parks & Geology

John Muir was a Scottish-American writer, lecturer, and an early influencer for nature, geology, wildlife, and more. He’s also known as an honorary public figure for advocating the conservation of wildlife from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. To many, he was a self-mastered glaciologist, botanist, geologist, and explorer. And today, John Muir’s legacy lives on as the “Father of National Parks” due to his contributions to the literary and environmental worlds. Updated November 5, 2023.

Early Life

Born on April 21, 1838, John Muir grew up with a religious and strait-lace family in the City of Dunbar, Scottland. And as a young boy, he did odd jobs to make ends meet. For instance, working in sawmills or at work yards. In the year 1849, John Muir immigrated to the United States. Commencing his attendance at the University of Wisconsin in the year 1867, Muir chose to pursue the career path of a mechanical inventor. However, upon nearly losing his eye in an industrial accident, he quit the profession to become an environmentalist. Many understand this career change to be a cathartic moment of sorts, ultimately resulting in his unconditional devotion to the conservation and preservation of nature.

Preservation of Nature and Wildlife

In early 1876, Muir began advocating for forest conservation policy. By publishing articles on environmental topics with prestigious publications (such as the Atlantic Monthly), awareness of the topic of wildlife conservation became a higher interest of the people. Additionally, other considerably prestigious publications made waves of influence in the academic and scientific communities.

The Gifford Pinchot Forest Protection Idea

Gifford Pinchot was a former US Forest Service chief and governor of the State of Pennsylvania. Muir’s views on wildlife conservation clashed with the Gifford Pinchot’s “Forest Protection Idea.” Pinchot was a political proponent of the efficient use of our nation’s natural resources, for the benefit of mankind. To simplify, this means implementing and enforcing conservation laws on the natural reserves, but with the exception of certain productions that provide more value and profit to the nation. Muir, on the other hand, was a firm believer that the forests and parks should be unconditionally protected.

The Sierra Club

John Muir also founded the Sierra Club in 1892, which is an organization with the goal of safeguarding the environment. He was its first chairman and was a helping hand to create early awareness about the need to protect the environment. This was one of the first environmental protection organizations to practice political movement and promotion. In fact, the club today boasts numerous political and financial sponsors. Today, the club is a proponent of various environmental policies and programs. For example: renewable energy; environmental engineering for sustainability; global warming; wildlife protection; and more.

John Muir & His Gift to America

John Muir was a strong advocate for the environmental preservation of the United States, as well as the general topic of wildlife conservation. His theories about the rightful preservation of nature were not a common concern for Americans at that time. In fact, there was very little awareness about the conservation of natural resources during the 1800s (especially compared to today). Muir’s writings were about plants, animals, and various landscapes during rural explorations across America. His writings helped others to appreciate nature and preserve it.

Influencing American People to Upkeep Nature

John Muir’s writings about nature conservation were entertaining to read by people of his generation, as well as those afterward. Thus, it caught the attention of the masses. As a result, many of his readers and followers began to grow similar interests, and eventually shape the perspective of environmental conservation that America has today. Many also believe that our nation’s natural landscapes aren’t likely to exist today if it were not for his influence. For instance, Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Olympic National Park, Zion, and more, are all among America’s favorites.

A Literary Influencer of Politicians

It’s safe to say that John Muir’s most successful influential platform was his writing. His articles, books, and journals were also highly regarded by other influential writers and philosophers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Additionally, many politicians have also shown appreciation for his work. For instance, in 1903, former president and lover of nature, Theodore Roosevelt, reportedly met with John Muir for a camping experience under the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia, in Yosemite. In fact, President Roosevelt established the Muir Woods National Monument, in Marin County, California, in honor of Muir’s cause. Today, this site remains a national historic site and national park.

John Muir is the Father of National Parks

The efforts of John Muir have put up countless political fights to safeguard national parks. With twelve books and over 300 articles that continue to inspire over two million members of the Sierra Club (as well as other nature supporters with political influence), interest groups defend Muir’s cause for environmental protectionism. These fights have been apparent in almost every administration in the United States since the late 1800s.

Later Life & Legacy

Muir passed away in 1914. However, his theories of environmental conservation and preservation have had far-reaching effects, even after his passing. And his books are now an inextricable component of America’s natural history. For example, The Mountains of California (1894); Our National Parks (1901); The Yosemite (1912); Travels in Alaska (1915); A Thousand-Mile Walk (1916); and The Cruise of the Corwin: Journal of the Arctic Expedition of 1881 in Search of De Long and the Jeannette (1917).

By sharing his beliefs and values of nature in the form of art and education, he has inspired generations of people to safeguard the American landscapes, as a personal interest. In fact, one can reasonably argue an evolution in American industrialism, due to this national interest. Not to mention the enhancements to American culture and priorities.

Pollution to the Environment

It’s no mystery at this point in human existence, that industrial activities are affecting the earth’s environment. At this moment, geologists firmly believe the planet is about 4.6 billion years of age, and comprises a history with numerous generations of elite micro- and bio-organisms, prior to human existence. Various time frames of Earth’s history are represented by “eras,” “periods,” “epochs” and “ages” in a geologic timescale. These divisions are representative of significant natural geological and biological occurrences. In fact, of all the geologic periods that make up the 4.6 billion years, geologists now dedicate a new geologic segment (officially the Meghalayan Age) to represent the environmental impact on Earth by humans.

Ocean Pollution

Oceanic pollution and the contamination of freshwater and seawater wildlife is a growing concerns in the biological and geological science communities. Modern research indicates industrial chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls) exist within the bodies of various sturgeon, stingrays, crabs, and other bottom-dwelling fish. Naturally, the apex predictors are the endpoint for these contaminants. For instance, dolphins and orcas are the final receivers of these pollutants in the bio-magnification process. And similarly, other contaminants are impacting the wildlife. For example, petroleum products, pesticides, herbicides, metals, PCBs, and more. Researchers understand that the build-up of these carcinogens in whales and dolphins results in deformities, early deaths, and birthing complications. 

Bodies of Water

Modern research shows there is a growing concentration of industrial chemical substances in land-based freshwater bodies throughout the world today. Although now illegal, many industrial sites still illicitly dispose of chemical waste into water, lakes, and rivers, without a permit. It is not uncommon for these freshwater bodies to ultimately lead to the ocean. As plants and animals live and feed within these bodies of water, they unknowingly intake the pollution and undergo health and birthing defects.

Soil and Groundwater Contamination

Human activities can also result in the contamination of soil and groundwater. For instance, factories, manufacturing plants, and gasoline stations are known to release chemicals into the ground over time. And these contaminants migrate through soil layers, into groundwater aquifers. Although John Muir is recorded in history as an advocate for national parks, he was also a supporter of our environment. The impact industrialism has on our subsurface is damaging to the nature of Earth. However, the effects of subsurface pollution reflect on the health and well-being of the humans above it.

Health Effects

Toxic chemicals in groundwater are dangerous to humans and the surrounding wildlife. Contamination plumes in groundwater can intercept municipal supply wells, which are drinking water sources for humans. Moreover, natural springs, basins, and lake beds are places where groundwater pollution can flow into free-standing water. At this point, marine and land animals are exposed to toxins. Soil contamination also affects the well-being of people living above contamination plumes. To illustrate, liquid phase contamination evaporates underground, into the vapor phase. And during this process, the toxic vapors migrate upwards, into the breathing spaces of humans. Because most of these chemicals lose their color and smell during the evaporation process, humans inhale them over a lifetime without knowing. The effects can cause terminal illness and disease.

Air Pollution

At this point in human history, Americans are well aware that exposure to harmful airborne substances is impacting plants, humans, and other living species. It is one of the biggest challenges the leading nations of the world are grappling with. This issue was expressed by John Muir, as it became a serious and increasing threat to the environment during the Industrial Revolution. Today, air pollution continues from the massive use of automobiles and factories, as well as construction sites.

Cutting Down of Trees

Muir reportedly had a strong interest in protecting the trees in America’s forests. In fact, prior to the establishment of Yosemite National Park, a tunnel was cut through the Wawona Tree of Miraposa Grove. The cut took place in 1881, for the transport of stagecoaches and carts, prior to the area having any protection by the National Parks program. Muir disagreed with this event, as well as the overall concept of cutting trees for industrial purposes. Theories suggest actions such as these degrade air quality and contribute to increasing carbon dioxide levels.

Environmental Engineering

John Muir’s legacies enhanced the world’s knowledge and interest in environmental protection. In fact, Environmental Protection Agencies are in place in many of today’s leading nations to enforce the prevention of pollution, and clean-up policies. As a result, we are at a point in history where the leading governments of the modern world are working to safeguard the planet and wildlife from ruin. The environmental engineering industry and government clean-up programs are some of today’s best human-progression strategies for this cause.

Sustainability & Environmental Quality

The environmental engineering industry is an increasingly valued branch of engineering. The field focuses on the protection of people and other living organisms, against the pollution of air, soil, groundwater, lakes, rivers, and oceans. Today, scientists and engineers study our natural resources and surroundings for potential contamination. If contamination is discovered, scientists perform various phases of testing to assess the extent of pollution and determine its impact on humans and/or wildlife. Subsequently, engineers and scientists design and implement remedial actions, in order to mitigate and eliminate the impacts of pollution.

Environmental Plans

Today the environmental industries are focusing on restoring Earth from human damage (as best as possible) and preserving it, without compromising the motivations of human development and growth. In general, the industries are in the works for sustainable plans to:

  • Assess industrial and commercial sites to determine their impact on the environment.
  • Study the impacts and long-term evolutionary effects of pollution on plants, animals, and humans.
  • Clean up the existing impacts on the environment.
  • Advise and support government agencies and policymakers on environmental issues.
  • Create Eco-friendly manufacturing blueprints for companies to follow moving forward.
  • Audit commercial/industrial businesses for the prevention of future environmental issues.
  • Establish comprehensive waste treatment plans for all runoff systems that lead into the environment from developed areas.
  • Ensure that companies and stakeholders are complying with future guidelines.

Enforcing the Plans of John Muir

It’s no mystery today, that the world is facing environmental challenges as a result of human activities. Looking back at John Muir’s advocacy for wildlife and nature conservation, the foundational elements for environmental protection and consciousness are already in place. And what his legacies have born in the modern world, shall be seen proper to enforce, indefinitely.

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