1956 3¢ Devils Tower
US #1084 was issued for the 50th anniversary of Devils Tower, the first monument created under the Antiquities Act.

On June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law, giving him and future presidents the authority to create national monuments from federal lands.

Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman. After the death of his first wife in 1884, Roosevelt moved to the North Dakota Badlands where he set up a ranch. When Roosevelt first came to the Badlands, it was as a hunter. But it was his interest in livestock and cattle ranching that made him stay.

1922 5¢ Theodore Roosevelt, dark blue
US #557 – from the Series of 1922-25

For a handful of years, Roosevelt made his home in the Badlands, adopting the western way of life. But he also spent many hours reflecting on the ever-changing landscape around him. Some of the animals there, such as the bison, had been over-hunted to near extinction. The landscape had changed as well. Early on, Roosevelt noticed the toll overgrazing was taking on the natural community.

Though Roosevelt soon gave up on ranching, he did not forget the important lessons he learned about conserving our natural resources, writing “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

1956 3¢ Devils Tower Classic First Day Cover
US #1084 – Classic First Day Cover

Roosevelt’s concern for nature continued to grow over time and when he became president in 1901 he had the authority to enact sweeping changes. Considered America’s first conservationist president, Roosevelt dedicated much of his time in the White House to protecting natural resources. He pushed for the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902, which provided for federal construction of dams to irrigate farms. It also placed 230 million acres under federal protection.

1934 2¢ National Parks: Grand Canyon, Arizona
US #741 – Roosevelt created the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. In 1933, it became a national park.

During his term, Roosevelt set aside more federal land, national parks, and nature preserves than all the presidents before him combined. He established the US Forest Service and created five new National Parks – Crater Lake in Oregon, Wind Cave in South Dakota, Sullys Hill in North Dakota, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Platt in Oklahoma.

2006 63¢ Bryce Canyon National Park
US #C139 – Bryce Canyon was established as a national monument in 1923 before it became a national park in 1933.

By the early 1900s, “pot hunters” had removed large numbers of Native American artifacts from prehistoric ruins that had little to no protection. Congressman John F. Lacy and anthropologist Edgar Lee Hewett worked together to explore the archaeological resources in the area, and their report was a major inspiration for the Antiquities Act.

Introduced on January 9, 1906, the Antiquities Act passed the House and Senate in early June and was signed into law by President Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. While it was initially passed to protect prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts on federal lands, it also authorized presidents to proclaim “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as “national monuments.” Roosevelt used a reference in the Act to “objects of scientific interest.” He named Devils Tower as the first national monument three months after the Act was passed. He would designate 17 more national monuments during his time in office.

2016 47¢ National Parks Centennial
US #5080 includes several parks that were initially monuments including Glacier Bay, Arches, and Bandelier.

Since it was passed, the act has been used over 100 times. The purpose of the document is “the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest.” Although national parks effectively do the same thing, because they need to be approved by Congress, the process takes a lot longer – when the president makes an official proclamation, the area is protected immediately. Since the act was passed, 18 presidents have created 176 national monuments, with President Obama holding the record at 29 monuments totaling 550 million acres.

Click here to read the text of the act and click here to visit the NPS website to discover more about National Parks and Monuments.

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9 Comments

  1. Theodore Roosevelt was a visionary when it came to protecting our natural resources. I was unaware that President Obama held the record. Thanks Mystic for today’s history lesson.

  2. I learn something new from every article Mystic prints about our stamps. I pass this information onto my 4rth-5th-6th grade students that attend my after school stamp club at Orchard View Elementary School in Delray Beach Fl. I am a volunteer running classes for over 6 years. Thank you Mystic.

    1. Hi Harvey –

      I just spent a few weeks in Del Ray. Loved it. So admire your volunteer work. What a great idea to use stamps as a vehicle for connecting with young people. I think the older generation feels like stamps are no longer of interest to younger folks. Sounds like you are proving that to be incorrect. Keep up the good work.

  3. When I first saw the devil’s tower I could not believe my eyes. It is so huge and so beautiful. Thank goodness for TR’s insight into saving the natural beauty of America.

  4. I guess that’s where the mother ship landed in the movie with Richard Dreyfus. Really neat. Seems there is a similar less spectacular but neat formation between Colorado Springs and Denver. I guess it never rated being a national monument. Thanks Mystic for the story. very interesting and relevant,

  5. One of our greatest presidents. Born wealthy, it was his feeling that everyone should have the same opportunities no matter how poor. A progressive republican who fought for health care, women’s rights, and used the office to improve life for the middle class instead of enriching himself.

    1. Yes Teddy was a great and popular President. It’s a shame that modern day republicans can’t care like he did.

  6. The Antiquities Act is one of the most important and lar-reaching laws ever passed by Congress. Dozens and dozens of wilderness, historic, picturesque, and important scientific sites have been protected as National Monuments, National Seashores, Marine Preserves, etc. by this act since 1906. Several of our national parks were first protected by presidential actions using the Antiquities Act. For example, Congress was unable to designate the Grand Canyon as a national park because of opposition by mining companies, ranchers, etc. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it to be a National Monument in 1908. The act to designate it as a National Park was finally signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

  7. Unfortunately, one recent President whose initials are D.J.T. tried to nearly eliminate two National Monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. Fortunately, the current President, J.R.B.Jr., restored them to their original boundaries.

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