When Congress established the Department of the Interior on this date in 1849, the nation had celebrated a mere sixty years of operation under the Constitution. By mid-century settlement expanded well beyond the Mississippi River across the Great Plains and the Rockies to the Pacific. Virtually all Indians had been resettled in the west. The discovery of gold in California heightened interest in mineral wealth and the expansion of mining. Manifest destiny, the idea that all of North America should be part of the United States, was active in the Pacific Northwest and by 1848 had already achieved victory over Mexico from California to Texas. Indeed the interior had become a busy and diversified aspect of the American experience and one that demanded some form of federal oversight. Is it any wonder that the organization was referred to as "the department of everything else" in its early years?
We've come a long way from "everything else" to a rather awesome department for someone who enjoys history, science, and geography and their applications to a national experience. The department's current interests are expressed quite well in its organization chart:
I feel very fortunate to have worked almost 37 years for Interior in that little box on the lower left that bears the label, "National Park Service." The Service has a noble mission carrying out what has been described as "the best idea America ever had." It was a wonder- filled experience that took me to the far corners of the country in terms of both geography and history. It's one I'd do over without hesitation. So here's a big thank you to Interior for giving me such an opportunity, and a happy birthday wish for continued careful stewardship of everything else.