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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Muir, John 1838 - 1914


inventor, naturalist, conservationist, author, b. Dunbar, Scotland. He migrated with his family to the U.S. and to Wisconsin in 1849, settling on a farm at Fountain Lake, near Montello. His youth was spent working on his father's farm; these experiences he later described in The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913). During his youth and young manhood, Muir displayed a talent for invention, and for several years toyed with the idea of establishing a career in mechanical arts. From 1860 to 1863 Muir studied intermittently at the Univ. of Wisconsin, where his primary interest was in botany and geology, and to supplement his income he taught science in the area schools. His love of natural solitude was still at work, however, and he took extensive trips through the wilderness areas of the state. In 1863 he left Wisconsin permanently, hiking through the surrounding states and Canada. In 1867 he moved to Indianapolis, Ind., where he was employed for a time in a carriage-wheel factory, but an injury to his eye ended forever the conflict between his mechanical and naturalistic interests, and late in 1867 he set out on a walking trek through the southern states. During this trip he kept a journal, which was posthumously edited and published as A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916). In 1868 he moved to Yosemite Valley, Calif., where he at first earned his living by sheepherding and guiding. Muir devoted many years of study and exploration to this area, and was eventually recognized as one of the leading naturalists in the nation. Much of the credit for the establishment of Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park is given to Muir, and he was the first to explain the glacial origin of the valley at Yosemite. As a conservationist and leader in the forest preserve movement, Muir advocated preserving the wilderness in its natural state. He later traveled in South America, Africa, and in Alaska, where Muir Glacier is named in his honor; his book Travels in Alaska (1915) was published posthumously. One of the leading conservationists in the U.S., Muir, as much as any man in his day, dramatized the need for preserving our country's natural resources from exploitation and despoliation. He was the recipient of honorary degrees from Harvard, Wisconsin, Yale, and California, and was the author of numerous books and articles. He died in California. View more information. Dict. Amer. Biog.; L. M. Wolfe, Son of the Wilderness (New York, 1945); W. F. Bade, Life . . . J. Muir (2 vols., Boston, 1924); WPA MS; J. Muir Papers.

View pictures related to John Muir at Wisconsin Historical Images.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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