When the U.S. National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016, no mountain peaks will be renamed for railroad mogul Louis W. Hill, no statues will be unveiled for E. H. Harriman of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and no plaques will be dedicated to Southern California auto clubs. In the official histories of the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the heroes of American conservation are named Roosevelt, Mather, Pinchot, Murie, and Carson.
But fewer entities have played a bigger role in protecting the nation’s parks, forests, and coastlines than American businesses. Alongside altruistic environmental values, the promise of profit has powered the movement to preserve the nation’s natural wonders. Industries that sold leisure and travel were instrumental in winning early protections for parks and wilderness areas despite the protestations of timber barons, mining magnates, and private developers. Hill’s Great Northern Railway, for example, lobbied for the creation of Grand Teton National Park. Harriman’s Southern Pacific Railroad stepped in to support the establishment of Yosemite National Park. And Southern California’s auto clubs joined the American Automobile Association, or AAA, to shape the National Park Service in its early years.
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