June 1906 Congress passes the Antiquities Act. It gives the president power to "declare by public proclamation ... objects of historic and scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected ..."
President Theodore Roosevelt uses the new
powers to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
Later that year, he establishes the Petrified Forest and Montezuma
Castle national monuments in Arizona, and the El Morro National
Monument in New Mexico.
1908 Although the
backers of the Antiquities Act had envisioned it as a way to
protect relatively small archaeological sites, Roosevelt deep-sixes
that assumption with the designation of 800,000 acres of the Grand
Canyon as a national monument (it became a national park in 1919).
An Arizona politician mounts a legal challenge to the monument,
arguing that it's much larger than the "smallest area compatible
with proper care and management," but the Supreme Court upholds the
designation in 1920. Today, national monuments range in size from
10 acres to 12 million acres, and total about 70 million
1909 With just hours left in his
presidency, Roosevelt establishes Mount Olympus National Monument,
now Olympic National Park. He begins a tradition of lame-duck
1910-1928 Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding and Coolidge establish
monuments at a brisk pace, including Dinosaur, Zion and Bryce
Canyon in Utah, Glacier Bay in Alaska, and the Statue of Liberty in
upper New York Bay.
1933 Just before leaving
office, Herbert Hoover establishes Saguaro, Black Canyon of the
Gunnison, and Death Valley national monuments.
1943 Over the objections of Congress, Franklin Roosevelt designates
Jackson Hole National Monument, setting off the first major
controversy over the Antiquities Act. Wyoming Sen. Edward Robertson
calls it a "foul, sneaking, Pearl Harbor blow," and Congress passes
a series of bills abolishing the monument. None make it past
1950 Jackson Hole National
Monument is incorporated into Grand Teton National Park. In
exchange for congressional approval of the bill, Harry Truman signs
a provision exempting Wyoming from the Antiquities
1969 At the end of his term, Lyndon Johnson
establishes Marble Canyon, now part of Grand Canyon National Park,
and expands several other national monuments.
1978 In one day, Jimmy Carter creates 17 national monuments in
Alaska - 56 million acres' worth - after Congress fails to pass an
Alaskan lands bill.
1996 From the rim of the
Grand Canyon, Bill Clinton declares the Grand Staircase-Escalante
in southern Utah a national monument. It's the largest national
monument in the lower 48 states, and the 105th monument designated
since the passage of the Antiquities Act. Although 29 of these
monuments have since become national parks, the Escalante monument
may not be on the same path. While almost all other monuments are
overseen by the Park Service - with the exception of two Forest
Service monuments - the Grand Staircase-Escalante is managed by the