Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot books and biography

Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot
Gifford Pinchot

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

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


Education and early life

Gifford graduated from Yale College in 1889, where he was a member of Skull and Bones and then studied as a postgraduate at the French National Forestry School for a year.

Gifford Pinchot's father, James, had made a great fortune from lumbering 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, and he turned Grey Towers, the family estate at Milford, Pennsylvania, into a nursery for the American forestry movement. It was managed by Gifford's brother Amos Pinchot.

The Pinchots thus were set apart from the other leading experts, Bernhard E. Fernow and Carl A. Schenck, both Cornell professors. Frenow advocated a regional approach and Schenck a private enterprise effort in contrast to the Pinchot national vision. [1]

Forestry policy and institutions

In 1896, Grover Cleveland appointed Pinchot to the National Forest Commission and charged him with developing a plan for the nation’s Western forest reserves. In 1898, he became head of the Division of Forestry, later renamed the United States Forest Service.

With fellow Yale alumnus Henry S. Graves, Pinchot founded the Yale University School of Forestry (now the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies) in 1900 and was a professor there from 1903 until 1936.

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 continuing through 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 which he thought had too narrow a time horizon, he also battled the "back to nature" spokesman like John Muir, who were deeply opposed to commercializing nature. [2]

Pinchot with Theodore Roosevelt, 1907
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 used massive 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. Pinchot issued massive amounts of information and news to the press and public. His effectiveness in manipulating information hostile to his boss President Taft led to his firing in January 1910. But his successes became a model for other bureaucrats in how to influence public opinion. [3]

Pinchot’s policies encountered some opposition. Preservationists opposed commercialization of the land; 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 kmē) 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.

Ballinger-Pinchot 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 which 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.

Pinchot retired at the end of his term in 1927. Following another unsuccessful attempt at the US Senate, the Pinchots took a seven-month cruise of the South Seas.

In 1930, Pinchot won a second term as governor, battling for regulation of public utilities, 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. 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 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 II. He is interned at Milford Cemetery, Pike County, Pennsylvania.

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 IV.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, and Gifford Pinchot State Park in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, are named in his honor, as is Pinchot Hall at Penn State University.


Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "as tho it were spelled pin'cho, with slight emphasis on the first syllable." [4]

See also

  • Wise Use Movement


  1. ^ [Lewis 1999]
  2. ^ [Balogh 2002]
  3. ^ [Ponder, 1987]
  4. ^ (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)


  • Gifford Pinchot (1912: Competing Visions for America, Ohio State University)
  • Gifford Pinchot (1965-1948) Conservation Hall of Fame, National Wildlife Federation
  • Gifford Pinchot Brief Bio

Further reading

Primary sources

  • Gifford Pinchot, The Conservation Diaries of Gifford Pinchot ed by Harold K. Steen (2001)

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
  • M. Nelson McGeary, 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
  • Char Miller. 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

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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