American History26 Jul 2010 07:16 pm
In 1999, the United States Mint launched a program that, in the words of the U.S. Mint website, “honored each of the nation’s states in the order that they ratified the Constitution or were admitted into the Union.” The first “state quarter” honored the first of the 50 United States: Delaware. The last quarter commemorated the state of Hawaii, which joined the Union in 1959.
The California state quarter honors the subject of today’s entry in the American History edition: John Muir, founder of the modern conservation movement. It was the 31st quarter in the series. (California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850.) It depicts Muir taking in the marvelous vista presented by the granite “Half Dome” in Yosemite Valley, while a California Condor flies overhead.
At the bottom of this post is a recent photograph of the “Half Dome.” Notice any difference? Neither do I, and we have Muir to thank for this fact. On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that designated Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias as areas “for public use, resort and recreation … inalienable for all time,” thus paving the way for the first national parks. Muir petitioned the government to expand the protections in these and other areas, and the National Park Bill was passed in 1899 to assure that the spirit of Lincoln’s law wasn’t violated by logging and other uses of the preserves. Our views of the “Half Dome” — and the Grand Canyonn and Old Faithful and Monument Valley and the Sandstone Arches of Utah and the Colorado Rockies — are therefore nearly identical to the views a century ago. Muir certainly earned his spot on the California quarter.
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