Theodore Roosevelt and the American Legacy of Conservation

Theodore Roosevelt

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

‘There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon in the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever with their majestic beauty unmarred.’ -Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was born on October 27, 1858. In honor of his upcoming birthday, it seems proper to highlight some of his countless triumphs in the political realm and beyond, and to display his influence on the Government Publications Department here, and to others around the country. Throughout the years, both during his lifetime and following his death in 1919, Roosevelt (or “Teddy,” which he actually hated to be called!) morphed into an almost mythical character in American history. When examining just a few of his more famous accomplishments, it is not hard to understand why. He first rose to national fame during the Spanish-American War in 1898, where he formed the infamous Rough Riders military squadron, comprised of former Ivy Leaguers, outdoorsmen, cowboys, and Native Americans.

In 1901, following the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt became the youngest American President ever at age 42. His administration was defined by Roosevelt’s battles against big business and his efforts to protect American citizens through the idea of a “Square Deal.” However, one of the more lighthearted events during his presidency actually occurred in our southern neighbor of Mississippi. During a hunting trip in 1902 near the Delta town of Rolling Fork, Teddy refused to shoot a bear that organizers had tied to a tree, claiming it was unsporting. The story grew to nationwide fame, leading to a shopkeeper selling stuffed animals coined “Teddy Bears.” President Roosevelt also became the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 due to his efforts in brokering a peace agreement ending a war between Russia and Japan.

Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C.

It is difficult to rank Teddy Roosevelt’s achievements over such an eventful lifetime, but perhaps his greatest legacy to our country was his tireless work in the field of conservation. Roosevelt was a lifelong outdoorsman and hunter, with a number of experiences shaping his passion for nature and its preservation. In 1883, he worked and hunted in the Badlands of North Dakota, which helped solidify his viewpoints concerning the protection of wildlife such as American bison from complete decimation. As President, Teddy also camped in Yosemite National Park with John Muir, one of the world’s greatest conservationists; this experience helped drive him to consistently use the government’s powers to protect America’s natural resources. A prolific writer, Roosevelt left behind an abundance of material concerning his thoughts on the natural world and its relationship to our society. In 1903, he created the country’s first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island in Florida, which reflected his personal love of ornithology. This would only be the beginning of his efforts in conservation as President: he helped create roughly 230 million acres of public lands, including National Parks such as Crater Lake and Mesa Verde, national monuments such as Devil’s Tower and the Grand Canyon, and national forests throughout the western United States.

Pamphlets Available in Government Publications

The Government Publications Department here at McWherter Library receives a number of documents from government agencies that owe much to the legacy and vision of Theodore Roosevelt, our “conservationist president.” My personal favorites are the pamphlets that are produced by the truly massive number of parks and monuments managed by the National Park Service, which is part of the Department of the Interior. A few of these directly honor Teddy, most notably Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. If you are so inclined, please peruse the display just outside of our section to see just a few of the National Park items on offer through our department. Beyond that, other government entities such as the National Wildlife Refuge System and the U.S. Forest Service provide us with materials which include educational booklets, maps, posters, and much more. If you have any interest in conservation, whether personal or academic (or you just want some really cool vacation ideas!), these items could serve as magnificent resources to better inform you about some of our nation’s greatest treasures: the very land and the wildlife that calls it home.


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