William Henry Jackson is best known for his early photographs of the American West, including photos of Yellowstone that helped to win Congressional support to create the first National Park in America.
Born on April 4, 1843, the first of seven children of George Jackson and Harriet Allen, William had artistry in his blood. Harriet Allen was a talented water-colorist and a graduate of the Troy Female Academy. She instilled a passion for painting in her son at a young age. By 19, he had become a talented and recognized artist of America pre-civil war visual arts. In 1866 Jackson boarded a Union Pacific Railroad and traveled until it reached the end of the line, just 100 miles west of Omaha. There he joined a wagon train and headed out west along the Oregon Trail to see the country. He returned to Omaha and settled down with his brother, going into a new form of business, photography. In 1869 Jackson won a commission from the Union Pacific Railroad to document the scenery along the various railroad routs for promotional purposes. When Ferdinand Hayden discovered Jackson’s work, he asked the photographer to join his group on a geologic servery to explore the Yellowstone River region. It was this body of work that impressed congress enough to open the purse-strings to form a park. In an era that believed frontiers were designed to be conquered and civilized with development, this was a great achievement in the preservation of a wilderness area for generations to come. Capturing Yellowstone before it became a park was only one of the many accomplishments of William Jackson. He died on June 30, 1942, ten months shy of his 100th birthday.