Gifford Pinchot, Governor, 1st Chief of the U.S. Forest Service

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Gifford Pinchot

Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Simsbury, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Death: October 4, 1946 (81) (Leukemia)
Place of Burial: Pike, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of James Wallace Pinchot and Mary Jane Eno Pinchot
Husband of Cornelia "Leila" Bryce Pinchot
Father of Gifford Bryce Pinchot
Brother of Antoinette E. Johnstone and Amos Richards Eno Pinchot

Managed by: Private User
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About Gifford Pinchot, Governor, 1st Chief of the U.S. Forest Service

Gifford Pinchot (August 11, 1865 – October 4, 1946) was the first Chief of the United States Forest Service (1905–1910) and the 28th Governor of Pennsylvania (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, Connecticut, in 1865; he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and Yale University in 1889, where he was a member of Skull and Bones. 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 family had made a great fortune from lumbering and land speculation. His father, James, regretted the damage his family's work had done to the land. He made conservation a family affair and suggested that Gifford should become a forester. At Gifford's urging, together James and Gifford endowed the Yale School of Forestry in 1900, and James turned Grey Towers, the family estate at Milford, Pennsylvania, into a "nursery" for the American forestry movement. Family financial 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 United States Department of Agriculture'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 School on the Biltmore Estate. 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 men who had the most influence on his development as a forester were Sir Dietrich Brandis, who had brought forestry to the British Empire, and Sir Wilhelm Schlich, Brandis' successor. 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 Sciences formed the National Forest Commission and they appointed him to the Commission, the only nonmember appointed. President Grover Cleveland later charged him with developing a plan for managing the nation’s Western forest reserves.

In 1898, Gifford Pinchot succeeded Bernhard Fernow as chief of the Division of Forestry, later renamed the United States Forest Service in 1905. While working for the transfer of the federal forests from the United States Department of the Interior to his agency in the Department of Agriculture, Pinchot 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. Doing so gave new forestry school graduates practical experience. Until 1900, students came from only two schools, the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell and the Biltmore Forest School. In order to provide a professional level of forestry training suited to "American conditions," as Pinchot defined them, the Pinchot family endowed a 2-year graduate-level School of Forestry at Yale University (now the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies). At Pinchot's urging, fellow Yale alumnus Henry S. Graves, along with James W. Toumey, left 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, Pinchot established the Society of American Foresters. Its establishment helped bring instant credibility to the new profession of forestry and was part of the broader professionalization movement underway in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.

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 ate 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 Valley in Yosemite National Park.

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 were opposed to massive timber cutting while Congress was increasingly hostile to conservation of the forests, bowing 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. For his contributions to conservation , Pinchot was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1916.

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.

The fire storm of 1910 and the descent of the Forest Service

William (Bill) Greeley the son of a Congregational minister, who finished at the top of that first Yale forestry graduating class of 1904 was hand picked by Pinchot to be Region 1 forester of the Forest Service with responsibility over 41 million acres (170,000 km2) in 22 National Forests in 4 western states(all of Montana, much of Idaho, and Washington, and a corner of South Dakota).

One year after the 1910 forest fire inferno, Great Fire of 1910, the religious Greeley got himself promoted to a high administration job in Washington. In 1920, becoming Chief of the Forest Service. The fire of 1910 convinced him that Satan was at work and it saw his conversion into a fire extinguishing partisan who elevated firefighting to the raison d'être — the overriding mission — of the Forest Service. Under Greeley, the Service became the fire engine company, protecting trees so the timber industry could cut them down later at government expense. Pinchot was appalled! The timber industry was now the fox in the chicken coop.

Pinchot and Roosevelt had envisioned, at the least, that public timber should be sold only to small, family-run logging outfits, not the big syndicates. Pinchot had always preached of a "working forest" for working people and small scale logging at the edge, preservation at the core.

In 1928, Bill Greeley left the Forest Service for a position in the timber industry becoming an executive with the West Coast Lumberman's Association.

On his trip west in 1937, with Henry S. Graves, what Gifford Pinchot saw "tore his heart out." Greeley's legacy, modern chain saws, and government forest roads had allowed industrial clear-cuts to become the norm in the western national forests of Montana as in Oregon. Entire mountainsides, mountain after mountain, denuded of all trees.

"So this is what saving the trees was all about." "Absolute devastation" Pinchot wrote in his diary. "The Forest Service should absolutely declare against clear- cutting in Washington and Oregon as a defensive measure", Pinchot wrote.

First term as 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.

In 1926, Governor Pinchot proposed his quasi-public "Giant Power" scheme for the state of Pennsylvania - which was very similar to Charles Steinmetz's plan to transmit electricity by high-voltage lines from power plants located adjacent to Pennsylvania coal mines - critics dismissed it as socialism. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt such a scheme materialized in the shape of the Tennessee Valley Authority(TVA).

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.

Long road to a second term

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."

Pinchot was worried about mounting a political comeback that year. “I don’t want to make a fool of myself,” he said a month before announcing his candidacy.

Pitted against Francis Shunk Brown, the candidate of William S. Vare’s powerful Philadelphia machine, and Thomas W. Phillips, a former two-term congressman from western Pennsylvania, who was enthusiastically supported by the state’s “wet” forces, Pinchot overcame a deficit of nearly 200,000 votes in traditionally Republican Philadelphia to pull into a 12,000-vote lead on election night.

The 281,000 votes cast for former congressman Phillips, most of which came at Brown’s expense, appeared to have given Pinchot a narrow victory in the primary.

Brown’s attorneys immediately challenged the results, contending that some 60,000 ballots in Luzerne County should be tossed out because they had been perforated beforehand by county election officials in an attempt to prevent fraud. The legal battle ensued throughout the summer and nobody knew for sure who the Republican candidate for governor would be, especially since both men periodically claimed to be the nominee.

Ending four months of litigation and political turmoil, on August 20 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, while castigating the Luzerne Common Pleas Court for marking (perforating) the ballots in the first place, upheld an earlier lower court ruling and declared that all 60,000 perforated ballots were valid, thereby certifying Pinchot as the winner of the May 20 Republican primary.

As expected, a number of key Republicans abandoned the former governor during the autumn campaign, one of the most significant defections being that of wealthy William W. Atterbury, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who resigned his seat on the Republican National Committee to actively support John M. Hemphill, Pinchot’s Democratic opponent.

Despite the opposition of many in his own party, including not only Vare’s powerful Philadelphia machine, but also many “wets” who revolted and created a separate Liberal Party that autumn — thereby giving the Democratic candidate two lines on the November ballot — Pinchot narrowly prevailed, defeating Hemphill by a margin of 1,068,874 to 1,010,204.

During his second term in office, Pinchot 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."

Later years

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 D. 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, 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 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 York to Key West and on to the Galapagos, Marquesas and Society Islands. 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 Forest in Washington and Gifford Pinchot State Park in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, are named in his honor, as is Pinchot Hall at Penn State University. The Pinchot Sycamore, the largest tree in his native state of Connecticut and second-largest sycamore on the Atlantic coast, still stands in Simsbury, where he was born. The largest Coast Redwood in Muir Woods, California, is also named in his honor, as is Pinchot Pass in the Kings Canyon National Park in California. The house where he was born belonged to his grandfather, Elijah Phelps, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Grey Towers, the family home outside Milford, is a National Historic Landmark open to the public for tours.

The Pinchot Institute for Conservation is seated in Washington, D.C. Gifford's son, Dr. Gifford Bryce Pinchot, donated Grey Towers National Historic Site to the Forest Service in 1963. President John F. Kennedy accepted this gift from the Pinchot family and then dedicated the Pinchot Institute for Conservation. The Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization as of 1994, and today continues Pinchot's legacy of conservation leadership and sustainability in forestry. They partner with the Pinchot family and the Forest Service, at both the national level and at the Grey Towers National Historic Site Their work can be found at

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.

The standard author abbreviation Pinchot is used to indicate this individual as the author when citing a botanical name.

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Gifford Pinchot, Governor, 1st Chief of the U.S. Forest Service's Timeline

August 11, 1865
Simsbury, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
October 4, 1946
Age 81
Pike, Pennsylvania, United States