Early History of Mt. Rainier NP
MPG V2.8, January 2013

I would be hardpressed to present the history of Mount Rainier National Park in just a few Web pages with other Web pages of related information or materials. There are far too many people who have more than aptly written the history of the NP before and after its designation as a National Park. What I can do, however, is present some ideas and thoughts I've found interesting and worthwhile to pass along.


While several Native American tribes have been visiting the area around Mt. Rainier for centuries, mostly in the summer and fall for food, game, grazing, and recreation, the first white people to see the mountain were those with the vayage of Captain Vancouver who gave the mountain its name.

The first white people to visit the area was William Tolmie and his expedition who travelled up the Puyallup, Carbon and Mowich River to the area of Mowick Lake, which he named Crater Lake and changed to Mowich Lake in 1919 by the Board of Geographic Names, and is believed to have climb near, but not to, the summit of mountain now named for him.

The second group of white people were two-fold, settlers and miners. The first settlers only travelled through the area around Mt Rainier on their way to the Puget Sound lowlands to establish and build towns, and the first settlement wasn't until the 1880's with James Longmire in the southwest part of the NP when he found the mineral springs at Longmire.

Before that, however, there were expeditions to the Paradise area with groups attempting climb to the summit of Mt Rainier. These groups often passed through the southwest area on their way to Paradise. During this same period, the northwest area was explored by Bailey Willis for the Northern Pacific Railroad while the northeast area was explored for mining claims

It was in the 1880's period many people began to recognize the uniqueness of Mt Rainier and the beauty of the area to iniitiate the idea of a national park similar to Yellowstone established as the first National Park in 1872. This effort didn't begin to organize until the 1890's after the designation of General Grant (now Kings Canyon), Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks in the early 1890's.

The effort would take most of the decade and need all the groups to work toward the recognition and establishment of Mt Rainier as a National Park, which included the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, business groups, recreation and climbing groups, members of Congress after (Washington) statehood, the scientific community, the federal agencies.

Along with the effort, one small, often overlooked but significant, contribution which helped sell the idea was the introduction of sheet film by Kodak, first for large format cameras (4x5 inch sheet film) and then box cameras with self-contained film you sent to Kodak to get the developed film and prints and a new roll of film in the camera.

It was the photographs by the increase number of large format photographers working in the Mt Rainier area and the many visitors with their box cameras which were used to show Mt Rainier and the area to people in Washington D.C. and the east coast to convince them of the beauty and uniqueness of the area, and the importance to set it aside as a National Park.

Early History Periods

The early history of Mount Rainier can be divided into periods due to the events about the mountain and the work to make it a National Park. That said, it's somewhat arbitrary on my part for the choice of events because it fits my interests about Mt. Rainier NP for photography, geography, and maps.

I've chosen four periods, pre-1890 (explorations and settlements), 1890-1899 (pre-NP efforts), 1899-1916 (pre-NPS and USGS Maps), and one later period, 1916-1940 (NPS and Depression). The pre-1890 period, 1870-1890, were the first explorations by white men and first exploitation and settlements occurred without little, if any, oversight and controls.

The period 1890-1899 was the period for the first scientific expeditions, the designation of the Washington Forest Reserve and the work from 1893-1899 when the area was set aside as a National Park. This was the period where all the efforts changed the course of everything about Mt. Rainier, and with the introduction of emulsion sheet film by Kodak in 1890, it opened the door for a number of photographers to work in and around Mt. Rainier.

The period 1899-1916 were the early years of the stablishment of the NP against the competing preservation and conservation interests, trying to find the funds for the basic needs and operating expenses before being brought into the new National Park Service, and the new scientific efforts in the NP with respects to developing maps, understanding glaciers, assessing the timber and wildlife resources, and other scientific ventures.

The period 1916-1940 can be divided into two part, the NPS era under the leadership of Stephen Mather as the first director of the NPS, 1916-1929, and Horace Albright, 1929-1933, and the era of the depression under President Franklin Roosevelt, who created the many programs which resulted in significant changes in the visitor experience in the NP.

The periods, listed below, will be presented with respect to some the history in, around and about Mount Rainier and the NP. The rest I'll leave to you and the resources listed below.

Early History of Mt. Rainier NP

Early Explorations
NP Effort
First Years & Maps
The NPS Years

The history for these periods is obviously not complete, it's just what I've found interesting from my interest and experience in photography, the geography and the maps of Mt. Rainier and the NP.

Additional Resources

Below are some publications and Websites for additional information on the history of Mt. Rainier NP.

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WSR V2.8, January 2013