Happy Birthday John Muir 

U.S. #1245 pictures Muir hiking in a redwood forest.

John Muir was born on April 21, 1838, in Dunbar, Scotland. The third of eight children, Muir attended school in Scotland until he was 11, when the family moved to Fountain Lake, and later Portage, Wisconsin.

Muir’s father was strict, making the family work on the farm from dawn to dusk. Whenever he was allowed short breaks, Muir and his younger brother would explore the fields.

U.S. #3182j pictures Muir and the Yosemite Valley.

Muir was a bright and curious child, having invented a number of items at a young age, including a horse feeder, a table saw, and a wooden thermometer. He showed some of these at the state fair and was then admitted to the University of Wisconsin. Though he was a good student, Muir left the school after three years to travel the northern U.S. and Canada. He did a number of odd jobs along the way to support himself. Among them was a job in a carriage parts shop in Indiana that almost blinded him. The accident led Muir to dedicate his years to exploring the beauty of nature. In less than a year, he walked 1,000 miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, sailed to Cuba, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and sailed up the west coast to San Francisco.

U.S. #740 – Muir called Yosemite “a landscape… that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld.”

Then, in March 1868, after expressing an interest in nature, he was directed to the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite. Muir spent about ten days there and was so moved by its natural beauty and peculiar sights that he returned the following year, finding work as a ranch hand and then a shepherd.

Leading a flock of about 2,000 sheep, Muir studied and sketched the plants, animals, and unusual rock formations. He began writing articles for various magazines across the country, describing the grand views and explaining his belief that glaciers created the valleys and major landforms.

By the 1870s, Muir began to worry about Yosemite’s safety, especially the grazing of the “hoofed locusts” he had once protected, eating much of the valley’s once-lush grass and greenery. He was also concerned about the logging of giant sequoia trees.

For several years, Muir invited guests to the park to show them its natural beauty and importance, in the hope of getting their support for his preservation efforts. In 1871, Muir convinced author Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was under pressure as a Harvard lecturer, to visit Yosemite for a month. Emerson was amazed at the views and named a giant sequoia.

U.S. #741 – Of the Grand Canyon, Muir wrote, “It seems a gigantic statement even for nature to make.”

He named the tree Samoset, after the first American Indian to have contact with the Pilgrims. Emerson, who was 68 at the time of his visit, told his wife that if he were a younger man, he would have stayed for good.

U.S. #742 – Muir climbed Mount Rainier and joined the campaign to create a National Park there.

By the 1880s, John Muir was no longer living in Yosemite. Though he loved it there, he had an intense wanderlust that saw him travel the world – Alaska, Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Japan. But he still invited others to camp there with him, and tried to promote its protection. One of these visitors was Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of The Century Magazine. Johnson gave Muir a national audience for his writing. Together, they lobbied Congress to establish Yosemite as a National Park. On October 1, 1890, their efforts paid off, and President Benjamin Harrison officially declared Yosemite a National Park. That year Muir also helped found Sequoia National Park.

U.S. #1039 – As President, Roosevelt went on to protect 230 million acres of public lands through national parks, forests, preserves, and monuments.

Two years later, Muir helped found the Sierra Club to “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.” He served as the group’s first president for over 20 years. In 1901, he published Our National Parks, which earned him national attention. Among those impressed by the book was future President Theodore Roosevelt. Two years later, Roosevelt joined Muir on a camping trip in Yosemite that helped guide his future conservation programs.

Muir took one of his last trips at the age of 73, to the Amazon. In a few short years his health began to suffer and he died on December 24, 1914.

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  1. “Deer in the forest caring for their young, the strong, well-clad, well-fed bears; the lively throng of squirrels, the blessed birds, great and small,stirring and sweetening the groves; and the clouds of happy insects filling the sky with joyous hum as part and parcel of the down-pouring sunshine. . . When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.” – John Muir, Notebook, July 27, 1869.

  2. As a member of Sierra Club as well as other conservation organizations, I am particularly proud to see John Muir featured today in “This Day in History”. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robert Redford weigh in on today’s feature.

  3. That certainly was more information than I ever knew about John Muir. Thank you for all of the good details.

    1. Yes, Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth. Look forward to seeing the ceremony on BBC tv and
      celebrating with you as our birthdays are in the beginning of May.

      Carol & Chris Artess

  4. John Muir, a great American, by way of Scotland. Muir would certainly have agreed with Wallace Stegner who once said that America’s National Parks were, “…the best idea we ever had.” Muir and the organization he helped found, the Sierra Club, has had many successes, but the greatest defeat and tragedy was the effort was to prevent the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley which was located within Yosemite National Park. Hetch Hetchy was smaller but nearly identical to Yosemite Valley, with vertical cliffs, crashing waterfalls, and a verdant valley floor. The city of San Francisco, after a long fight, was allowed to build a dam which flooded the valley. Muir and many others unsuccessful fight to save Hetch Hetchy, highlighted the fact that the nation’s National Parks had no real protection. In 1916, The National Park Act provided that protection and created the National Park Service. The National Park system has grown to include not only spectacular scenic sites, but also sites of historic and cultural importance. Muir has rightly been referred to as the “father of our National Parks”, and as Wallace Stegner, they are, “…the best idea we ever had.”

  5. Too Bad the USPS couldn’t do Mr Muir justice in publishing ALL of America’s Greatest Wonders of the World THE National Park/Monument Systems

  6. National Park system is indeed America’s treasure, thank you John Muir. Maybe the USPS can take on a multi-year effort to highlight all the National Parks, Monuments, and Historical sites with a special campaign?

  7. Learning more about John Muir was very interesting. He indeed was an amazing man. And I love our Nation’s National Park System … it is fantastic !!

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