On this day in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt places the Grand Canyon under public protection, declaring it a national monument. In a statement made during a visit to the Grand Canyon in 1903, Roosevelt indicated his intention to preserve one of America’s most unique natural sites. He urged Americans to “let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”
Miners had discovered valuable mineral resources in the Grand Canyon in the 1800s, yet extraction was a dangerous and expensive task. At the beginning of the 20th century, mining claims waned while tourism increased. Photographers, writers and painters captured the Grand Canyon’s dramatic beauty in their works and, with improvements in transportation, the Grand Canyon became a popular tourist destination. Roosevelt recognized industrial and commercial development as an imminent threat to the site and sought to prevent the construction of a railroad around the canyon’s perimeter.
Born to privilege and educated at Harvard, Roosevelt possessed a deep respect for nature gained through his experience living and ranching in the Dakota Territories. Prior to his involvement in politics, Roosevelt had indulged his passion for preservation as president of the American Historical Association and led scientific expeditions to South America and Africa. As president, he initiated federal water-management and land-use policies with the 1902 Newlands Act and, in 1906, signed the Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, giving the president the power to officially declare natural and historic sites situated on federal land as national monuments. During an age when the environment was beginning to show strain from industrial progress and settlement, Roosevelt assigned national-monument status to a record 18 natural sites. An ardent conservationist and avid hunter, Roosevelt issued a prophetic statement that “the conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.” Congress upgraded the Grand Canyon to national-park status in 1919 and doubled the protected area in 1975.