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Gifford Pinchot (August 11, 1865 October 4, 1946) was the first Chief of the United States Forest Service (1905–1910) and the Governor of Pennsylvaniamarker (1923–1927, 1931–1935). He was a Republican and Progressive.

Pinchot is known for reforming the management and development of forests in the United States and for advocating the conservation of the nation's reserves by planned use and renewal. He called it "the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man." Pinchot coined the term conservation ethic as applied to natural resources.

Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "as though it were spelled pin'cho, with slight emphasis on the first syllable."

Education and early life

Gifford Pinchot was born in Simsbury, Connecticutmarker, in 1865; he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academymarker and Yale Universitymarker in 1889, where he was a member of Skull and Bonesmarker. He studied as a postgraduate at the French National Forestry School for a year. He returned home and plunged into the nascent forestry movement, intent on shaping a national forest policy.

Gifford Pinchot's father, James, had made a great fortune from lumbering and land speculation but regretted the damage his work had done to the land. He made conservation a family affair and decided that Gifford would become a forester. He endowed the Yale School of Forestry in 1900, and he turned Grey Towersmarker, the family estate at Milford, Pennsylvaniamarker, into a "nursery" for the American forestry movement. Family affairs were managed by Gifford's brother Amos Pinchot, thus freeing Pinchot to do the more important work of developing forest management concepts. Unlike some others in the forestry movement, Pinchot's wealth allowed him to singly pursue this goal without worry of income.

Pinchot's approach set him apart from the other leading forestry experts, especially Bernhard E. Fernow and Carl A. Schenck. Fernow had been Pinchot's predecessor in the USDAmarker's Division of Forestry before leaving in 1898 to become the first Dean of the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell. Schenck was Pinchot's successor at the Biltmore Estate (widely recognized as the "cradle of American forestry") and founder of the Biltmore Forest Schoolmarker on the Biltmore Estatemarker. Their schools largely reflected their approaches to introducing forestry in the United States: Fernow advocated a regional approach and Schenck a private enterprise effort in contrast to Pinchot's national vision.

Perhaps, the person who had the most influence on his development as a forester was Sir Dietrich Brandis who had brought forestry to the British Empire. Pinchot relied heavily upon Brandis' advice for introducing professional forest management in the U.S. and on how to structure the Forest Service when Pinchot established it in 1905.

Forestry policy and institutions

In 1896, the National Academy of Sciencesmarker formed the National Forest Commission and they appointed him to the Commission, the only nonmember appointed. Grover Cleveland later charged him with developing a plan for managing the nation’s Western forest reserves.

Gifford Pinchot succeeded Bernhard Fernow as Chief of the Division of Forestry, later renamed the United States Forest Service, in 1898. He introduced better forestry methods into the operations of the private owners, large and small, by helping them make working plans and by demonstrating good practices on the ground. In order to provide a professional level of forestry training suited to "American conditions", the Pinchot family endowed a 2-year postgraduate School of Forestry at Yale University (now the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies). Fellow Yale alumnus Henry S. Graves, and James W. Toumey were released from the Division in 1900 to start the school. In the fall of 1900, the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell had 24 students, Biltmore 9, and Yale 7.

In 1900, under Pinchot's leadership the Society of American Foresters was founded.

Pinchot sought to turn public land policy from one that dispersed resources to private holdings to one that maintained federal ownership and management of public land. He was a progressive who strongly believed in the efficiency movement. The most economically efficient use of natural resources was his goal; waste was his great enemy. His successes, in part, were grounded in the personal networks that he started developing as a student at Yale and continued developing throughout his career. His personal involvement in the recruitment process led to high esprit de corps in the Forest Service and allowed him to avoid partisan political patronage. Pinchot capitalized on his professional expertise to gain adherents in an age when professionalism and science were greatly valued. He made it a high priority to professionalize the Forest Service; to that end he helped found the Yale School of Forestry as a source of highly trained men.


Pinchot used the rhetoric of the market economy to disarm critics of efforts to expand the role of government: scientific management of forests was profitable. While most of his battles were with timber companies that he thought had too narrow a time horizon, he also battled the forest preservationists like John Muir, who were deeply opposed to commercializing nature.

Pinchot was generally opposed to preservation for the sake of wilderness or scenery, a fact perhaps best illustrated by the important support he offered to the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valleymarker in Yosemite National Parkmarker.

Pinchot with Theodore Roosevelt, 1907

Pinchot rose to national prominence under the patronage of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1905, his department also gained control of the national forest reserves, thereby dramatically increasing the authority of the Forest Service. Pinchot developed a plan by which the forests could be developed by private interests, under set terms, in exchange for a fee. Pinchot embarked on many publicity campaigns to direct national discussions of natural resource management issues.

Central to his publicity work was his creation of news for magazines and newspapers, as well as debates with opponents such as John Muir. His effectiveness in manipulating information hostile to his boss, President William Howard Taft led to his firing in January 1910. But his successes became a model for other bureaucrats on how to influence public opinion.

Pinchot’s policies encountered some opposition. Preservationists opposed to massive timber cutting while Congress was increasingly hostile to conservation of the forests, owing to local commercial pressures for quicker exploitation. In 1907, Congress forbade the creation of more forest reserves in the Western states. Roosevelt designated 16 million acres (65,000 km²) of new National Forests just minutes before his power to do so was stripped by a congressionally mandated amendment to the Agriculture Bill. These were called the Midnight Forests.

Pinchot-Ballinger controversy

Pinchot’s authority was substantially undermined by the election of President William Howard Taft in 1908. Taft later fired Pinchot for speaking out against his policies and those of Richard Ballinger, Secretary of the Interior. Pinchot launched a series of public attacks to discredit Ballinger and force him from office in what became known as the Pinchot-Ballinger controversy. That episode hastened the split in the Republican Party that led to the formation of the Progressive Party, of which Pinchot and his brother were top leaders.

Pinchot ran for Senate in 1914 on the Progressive Party ticket and expressed interest in the presidency. After his campaign, Pinchot promoted American involvement in World War I, opposing President Woodrow Wilson's neutrality. The Progressives returned to their old parties and Pinchot rejoined the Republicans.

Pinchot founded the National Conservation Association, of which he was president from 1910 to 1925.

Governor of Pennsylvania

With Wilson's re-election in 1916, Pinchot turned to Pennsylvania state politics. Governor William Sproul appointed him state Commissioner of Forestry in 1920. Pinchot's aim, however, was to become governor. His 1922 campaign for the office concentrated on popular reforms: government economy, enforcement of Prohibition and regulation of public utilities. He won by a wide margin. In 1924, Pinchot considered challenging President Calvin Coolidge for the Republican nomination, but ultimately declined to run for the presidency.

Pinchot retired at the end of his term January 18, 1927. Following another unsuccessful attempt at the U.S. Senate, the Pinchots took a seven-month cruise to the South Seas.

In 1930, Pinchot won a second term as governor, battling for regulation of public utilities, the continuance of Prohibition, relief for the unemployed, and construction of paved roads to "get the farmers out of the mud." This was the achievement he was most proud of. He also abolished the thug system of Coal and Iron Police appointed by his predecessor, Governor John Fisher. When Prohibition was nationally repealed in 1933, and four days before the sale of alcohol became legal in Pennsylvania again, Pinchot called the Pennsylvania General Assembly into special session to debate regulations regarding the manufacture and sale of alcohol; this session led to the establishment of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and its system of state-run liquor stores, reflecting Pinchot's desire to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible." In 1934, Pinchot ran unsuccessfully for the senate a third time. Pinchot's final campaign, a bid for the GOP nomination for Governor in 1938, was also unsuccessful.

In his remaining years, the ex-governor gave advice to President Franklin Roosevelt, wrote a book about his life as a forester, and devised a fishing kit to be used in lifeboats during World War II. He even instructed the U.S. Navy on how to extract fresh water from fish.

Death and legacy

On October 4, 1946, he died aged 81, from leukemia. He was survived by his wife, Cornelia Bryce, and his son, Gifford Bryce Pinchot. He is interred at Milford Cemetery, Pike County, Pennsylvaniamarker.

Perhaps because of pride in the first Gifford Pinchot's legacy, the Pinchot family has continued to name their sons Gifford, down to Gifford Pinchot V.

Gifford Pinchot was named for Hudson River School artist Sanford Robinson Gifford.

Gifford Senior and his then thirteen-year-old son co-wrote a scientific travel-adventure book, entitled Giff and Stiff in the South Seas, copyright 1933, by the John C. Winston Co. of Philadelphia. Junior Gifford is the actual voice of the adventure, documenting in a young boy's language the scientific studies, observations, and adventures as father, mother, son, and companions sail on the Mary Pinchot from New Yorkmarker to Key Westmarker and on to the Galapagosmarker, Marquesasmarker and Society Islandsmarker. This Darwin-like odyssey is accompanied by photos of the journey. Although the book is currently out of print, it can be found.

Gifford Pinchot National Forestmarker in Washington and Gifford Pinchot State Parkmarker in Lewisberry, Pennsylvaniamarker, are named in his honor, as is Pinchot Hall at Penn State Universitymarker. The Pinchot Sycamoremarker, the largest tree in his native state of Connecticutmarker and second-largest sycamore on the Atlantic coast, still stands in Simsburymarker, where he was born. The largest Coast Redwood in Muir Woods, California, is also named in his honor.The house where he was born belonged to his grandfather, Elijah Phelps, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. [31713] Grey Towersmarker, the family home outside Milford, is a National Historic Landmark open to the public for tours.

Gifford Pinchot III, grandson of the first Gifford Pinchot, is co-founder and president of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, which offers a Master of Business Administration degree integrating environmental sustainability and social responsibility with innovation and profit.

Bronson Pinchot (TV star from Perfect Strangers) is not related to Gifford Pinchot. [31714]

See also


  1. (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)
  2. # ^
  3. [Lewis 1999]
  4. "The History of Forestry in America", page710, by W.N. Sparhawk in Trees: Yearbook of Agriculture,1949. Washington,D.C.
  5. [Balogh 2002]
  7. [Ponder, 1987]
  8. Yuengling A History of America's Oldest Brewery by Mark A. Noon, p 131. ISBN 0-7864-1972-5. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005
  9. Breaking New Ground by Gifford Pinchot.ISBN 9781559636704. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1947. In print, 1998, by Island Press and in paperback


Further reading

Primary sources

  • "Breaking New Ground" by Gifford Pinchot.ISBN 9781559636704. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1947. In print, 1998, by Island Press and in paperback..
  • Gifford Pinchot, The Conservation Diaries of Gifford Pinchot ed by Harold K. Steen (2001)
  • Gifford Pinchot, The Fight for Conservation. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1910.

Secondary sources

  • Balogh, Brian. "Scientific Forestry and the Roots of the Modern American State: Gifford Pinchot's Path to Progressive Reform" Environmental History 2002 7(2): 198–225. Issn: 1084-5453
  • Lewis, James G. "The Pinchot Family and the Battle to Establish American Forestry" Pennsylvania History 1999 66(2): 143–165. Issn: 0031-4528
  • McGeary, M. Nelson, Gifford Pinchot: Forester-Politician (1960)
  • Meyer, John M. "Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, and the Boundaries of Politics in American Thought" Polity 1997 30(2): 267–284. Issn: 0032-3497
  • Miller, Char., Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism (2001)
  • Nash, Roderick. "Wilderness and the American Mind," Univ. of Wisc. Press, (1967), and later editions
  • Ponder, Stephen. "Gifford Pinchot, Press Agent for Forestry" Journal of Forest History 1987 31(1): 26–35. Issn: 0094-5080
  • Smith, Michael B. "The Value of a Tree: Public Debates of John Muir and Gifford Pinchot" Historian 1998 60(4): 757–778. Issn: 0018-2370

External links

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