STEPHEN TYNG MATHER (1867-1906)
U.S. Congressman William Kent (left) and Stephen T. Mather were initial donors to Save the Redwoods League.
Stephen Tyng Mather (1867-1930) was best known as a conservationist who was instrumental in creating the National Park Service. He was the great-grandson of Deacon Joseph Mather who built the Mather Homestead in 1778. In 1906, he became the sole owner of the Mather family homestead.
Stephen Mather was born in San Francisco to Joseph Wakeman Mather and Bertha Walker and was named for a prominent Episcopal minister, Stephen Tyng of New York. While he was raised in San Francisco and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1887, his family spent summers in Connecticut at the Mather homestead and he considered this to be his true home. Nonetheless, his time out West instilled his interest in nature and the national parks.
Mather was a successful industrialist who started his career as a reporter with the New York Sun and after five years joined the Pacific Coast Borax Company in New York where his father worked. In 1894 he and his wife, Jane Floy Mather moved to Chicago with Borax. He is credited with coining the slogan "20 Mule Team Borax" which branded the commodity and made Borax a household name. In 1903 he created the Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company with a friend and by 1914 was a millionaire, giving him the flexibility to retire and pursue other interests.
Mather was a long time lover of the outdoors and a mountaineer. In 1914, Mather wrote a letter to his former classmate from Berkeley, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane. He condemned the deteriorating conditions of the parks which suffered from logging, hunting, mining, roaming cattle and other conditions. He received a reply from his friend which said, "Dear Steve, If you don't like the way the parks are being run, come on down to Washington and run them yourself." And that he did.
Mather went to Washington and became Assistant Secretary of the Interior in January 1915. Through Mather's tireless efforts, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill authorizing the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior on August 25, 1916. Before the National Park Service, the 14 parks and 18 national monuments were administrated by Army officers or political appointees without central oversight or regulations. In 1917 Mather became the first Director of the National Park Service, created to protect and manage the national parks.
He served as Director of the National Park service until 1929, increasing the number of parks and national monuments, and establishing systematic criteria for adding new properties to the federal system. During his time, the US doubled its park area, adding the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Acadia, Hawaii and Mt. McKinley (Denali). He publicized the National Parks and developed an appreciation for their scenic beauty among the population. He also set up a system of Park Rangers to protect the parks and educate visitors.
Mather's work helped to preserve parkland in the US and protect scenic resources and natural areas for the public good. As a result, in more than 60 parks bronze plaques with his picture read, "He laid the foundation of the national park service defining and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be developed and conserved unimpaired for future generations there will never come an end to the good that he has done."
Stephen Mather currently rests in the Mather Cemetery in Darien. He was father to one daughter, Bertha Floy Mather McPherson who inherited the Mather Homestead in 1930 when he died.
STEPHEN MATHER EXHIBIT
Our first exhibit in the Mather Homestead Elizabeth W. Chilton Center opened in the fall of 2022. The exhibit explores the life and legacy of Stephen Tyng Mather (1867-1930), the first Director of the National Park Service and owner of the Mather Homestead from 1906 to 1930.
The full exhibit includes many artifacts from the Mather Homestead collection including Stephen Mather's photo collections, his camera and more. Reach out to schedule a time to see the exhibit!