In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln gave Yosemite Valley to the state of California, “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation,” according to Politico.
The Yosemite Grant Act that made the 15-mile-long valley available for public recreational use at the time made Yosemite an official state park.
Lincoln’s Yosemite Act was the very beginning of what would eventually become the U.S. Antiquities Act, put in place by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, which “obligates federal agencies that manage the public lands to preserve for present and future generations the historic, scientific, commemorative, and cultural values of the archaeological and historic sites and structures on these lands” (National Park Service).
Today, there are 59 official national parks, including Yosemite, under the care of a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior called the National Park Service. This bureau was the result of the National Park Service Act signed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916, which estimates more than 275 million U.S. national park visitors every year.
But before these acts, and before the Teddy Bear became a symbol of President Roosevelt and his conservationist efforts in 1902, eight of the 59 natural areas that make up today’s national parks were already being recognized as officially protected recreational land. These images show those parks established during the 19th century and the presidents who signed them into existence.