John Muir was a widely influential 19th-century American naturalist. He was instrumental in the wilderness preservation movement and in the move to create national parks. Although he did not see himself as a writer, Muir's journals and books have
had a large impact on the American public's thinking about the wilderness.Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland, in 1838, but emigrated to America with his family in 1849. He spent the rest of his childhood on a rural Wisconsin farm. Religion and hard work were important aspects of his life and influenced him in his later years. Being deeply religious, Muir's father saw no need for his son to be educated beyond the bible, so John Muir was responsible for his own education. He
attended the University of Wisconsin, but his chosen course of study did not earn him a degree. Muir then found work in a factory, but when an accident left him temporarily blind, he quit to visit as much of the world as possible.
Muir began a series of walks, including a 1000-mile hike to the Gulf of Mexico. He walked to Cuba and planned to continue to South America, but illness made it impossible at the time, so instead he journeyed west, to
California and the Yosemite Valley. He arrived in 1868 and began to study the nature of the area. Muir proposed the idea that many of the region's spectacular landforms had been formed by glaciers. This idea went against many other scientific ideas of the time, but Muir was soon proven correct by his meticulous studies of the area. Muir also saw the connection between sheep-herding and its effects on plants and soil erosion.
Muir worked passionately to spread his ideas, which eventually led to the establishment of Yosemite National Park in 1890. He also convinced the U.S. government to get involved in forest conservation, a development that resulted in the creation of 21 million acres of forest preserves. In addition to this, Muir impacted such figures as Theodore Roosevelt in their environmental
decision-making, including the decision to found the national wildlife refuge system.
The only major battle that Muir did not win involved the damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite to supply San Francisco with water. He felt strongly about the issue; and after harming his public image with violent attacks on the people of San Francisco, he retired with his wife and children to the family ranch to devote the majority of his time to his journals.
Since his death in 1914, Muir's writings and works have been widely studied and have been influential in many circles. His ideas have had a powerful effect on the opinions of Americans at large and have convinced many to work for the preservation of America's irreplaceable natural resources.
An article on Muir's Yosemite from the Atlantic Monthly
John Muir Day
Streaming audio about Muir