William Gladstone Steel

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William Gladstone Steel
William Gladstone Steel (old).jpg
Steel is known as "Father of Crater Lake"
Born (1854-09-07)September 7, 1854
Stafford, Ohio,
Died October 21, 1934(1934-10-21) (aged 80) -->
Medford, Oregon
Occupation Journalist
Known for Crater Lake National Park

William Gladstone Steel (September 7, 1854 – October 21, 1934), called the "father of Crater Lake",[1] referring to the creation of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, United States. A native of Ohio, he worked in the newspaper business before becoming a mail carrier. He campaigned Congress for 17 years to designate Crater Lake as a national park.


Early years[edit]

William Steel was born on September 7, 1854, in Stafford, Ohio, to Elizabeth Lawrie and William Steel,[2] abolitionists who were active in the Underground Railroad.[1] The family included his brother, George A. Steel, who became Treasurer of Oregon,[2] and his sister, Jane, who attended St. Mary's School.

On March 25, 1868 the Steel family moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a farm near Oswego, Kansas.[3] In May 1870, William, as a Kansas school boy, he read a newspaper wrapped around his lunch about the discovery of Crater Lake.[1][3]

First visit to Crater Lake[edit]

Steel finally traveled to Crater Lake in 1885, traveling by railroad and then stagecoach to Fort Klamath. After that, he walked 20 miles, arriving on August 15, 1885.[1] Steel published an articles in the March 1886 issue of West Shore describing his reactions as he viewed the lake for the first time.[4][5]


Steel was a member of the Portland Alpine Club,[1] the first known alpine club in the West,[1] and then a member of the Mazamas after the Portland Alpine Club folded.[1]

Steel not only spent time guiding influential people around the area and leading nature hikes, but he also gave campfire lectures about Crater Lake's flora, fauna and geography, much like a contemporary interpretive park ranger. Steel more than anyone else shaped the early public perception of Crater Lake. For example, he garnered a great deal of publicity for Crater Lake by hosting The Mazamas' convention and mountain climbing tour in 1896. Hundreds of people, including politicians, scientists and climbers, spent three weeks in the area. At the close of the convention, fireworks were lit on Wizard Island and the group ceremoniously christened the volcano that once stood where the lake is, calling it Mount Mazama.

Steel and Native Americans[edit]

Despite Steel's many accomplishments, some of his policies ran contrary to the conservation aspect of the National Park Service's (NPS) mission.[citation needed]

Steel as developer[edit]

Steel's lobbying led to the designation of Crater Lake as the sixth national park.[1] He was not the first superintendent of the park, but did manage to get the first superintendent ousted in what was known as the "Crater Lake Rumble".[1] Steel believed it was important to develop the lake to bring the public to the lake, including selling the idea of a lodge and an encircling road at the crater's rim, but he also envisioned an elevator to take people to the lake's surface, and roads around the lake itself and to Wizard Island for cars.[1] After three years, Steel was removed as superintendent of the park.[1]

Later life[edit]

Steel was "honored, tolerated, and despised",[1] and became known as "The Judge",[1] described as a "one-man chamber of commerce".[1]

He last visited the park in 1932, and died in Medford in 1934.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Oregon Experience: William Gladstone Steel, KOPB
  2. ^ a b Corning, Howard M. (1989) Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 234.
  3. ^ a b Smith Brothers' Chronological History of Crater Lake National Park; craterlakeinstitute.com
  4. ^ Mark, Stephen R., "Early Efforts to Establish Crater lake National Park: 1885-1893", Administrative History Crater Lake National Park Oregon, Crater Lake National Park, United States Park Service, United States Department of Interior, Washington, D.C., 1984.
  5. ^ "William Steel (1854-1934)", The Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon, 2002.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Panoramic view of Crater Lake.