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William Gladstone Steel

OPB | Nov. 17, 2006 8 p.m. | Updated: July 25, 2013 10:15 a.m.

William Gladstone Steel is considered to be the “Father of Crater Lake” and was instrumental in preserving the Cascade Range Reserve.

He was born in 1854 in Ohio, where his parents ran an underground railroad stop. They eventually moved to Kansas and then to Portland, Oregon. It was in Kansas that Steel claims to have first read about Crater Lake in a newspaper used to wrap his lunch. Right then he vowed to see it — and 15 years later, he finally did.

Crater Lake 1912. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

So awestruck by what he saw, Steel made it his life’s mission to preserve the lake as a national park. He was dedicated, passionate and annoying. He badgered anyone he thought might help him and spent years lobbying Congress, writing to newspaper editors and drumming up publicity for his ideas.

 After 17 years of hard work, Steel’s efforts paid off. On May 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill making Crater Lake a national park. But once the park was established, Steel felt it had to be developed in order for people to enjoy it. He pushed for better roads, secured financing for a grand lodge and even wanted to build a bridge to Wizard Island within Crater Lake.

Despite his ideas for development, Steel was also a dedicated conservationist who founded the mountaineering club the Mazamas and spent several years working to make the Cascade Range a national reserve.

William Gladstone Steel was complex and controversial, and an important force in preserving the Cascade Range as we know it today.

In the following excerpt from a letter he wrote in 1930, Steel describes his lifelong passion for Crater Lake — from the time he first read a newspaper article about a “great sunken lake” to his quest to create a national park.

William Steel Personal Letter, Sept 7, 1930. Photo courtesy of Crater Lake National Park Archives.

Resources

 

Articles

He All but Made the Mountains: William Gladstone Steel, Mountain Climbing, and the Establishment of Crater Lake National ParkOregon Historical Quarterly, Spring 2002

 

Books

Mount Hood: A Complete Story by Jack Grauer

 

Web

Belief and Ritual of Crater Lake

Crater Lake Institute

Crater Lake National Park

The Klamath Tribes

The Mazamas

Seventeen Years to Success: John Muir, William Gladstone Steel, and the Creation of Yosemite and Crater Lake National Parks by Stephen R. Mark, Crater Lake National Park Historian

The Smith Brothers’ Chronological History of Crater Lake National Park! Collected and edited by Larry B. Smith and Lloyd C. Smith

Crater Lake National Park Trust

 

Broadcast Date: February 19, 2007

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