What Was the First National Monument in the United States?

Devils Tower was designated a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in June 1906.
Devils Tower was designated a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in June 1906.

National monuments are areas that are under the protection of the US government either due to their uniqueness or if they have a cultural or historical significance. The authority to designate an area as a National Monument lies with the US President. A national monument can later be converted into a national park or merged into an existing national park. In the turn of the 20th century, the US government resolved to come up with legislation aimed at protecting critical cultural artifacts of the prehistoric Native Americans, which were susceptible to damage. The legislation enacted in 1906 and was known as the “Antiquities Act of 1906”.

The Antiquities Act

The Antiquities Act was passed by Congress in 1906, with President Theodore Roosevelt signing it into law in June 1906. The act dictates the procedure for the establishing of national monuments. According to provisions of the Act, the choice of the site to be designated as a National Monument lies under the exclusive discretion of the US President. The then US President Theodore Roosevelt would use the powers vested in the presidency by the Antique Act to designate the first National Monument in US history, the Devils Tower in 1906.

Devils Tower

The first National Monument in the US was the Bear Lodge Butte, also known as the Devils Tower, which is an immense Butte situated in Crook County, Wyoming. The geological feature stands 5,112 feet above seas level and rises a mind-boggling 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain. The Butte is 867 feet tall when measured from bottom to the summit. Devils Tower has some of the steepest sides of any Butte, making it a popular rock climber’s magnet.

While Native Americans had lived around the monolith for centuries, the first American of Caucasian heritage to visit Devils Tower was William F Raynolds and his team in 1859. William Ripley and William Rogers became the first people to reach Devils Tower’s summit after ascending up the monolith successfully in July 1893 using simple wooden pegs nailed into the butte’s surface. The beauty and uniqueness of Devils Tower led to the establishment of a forest reserve around the monolith in 1892 by the US government, and it was designated as America’s first National Monument in 1906.

The impressive geological feature is without equal in beauty and towering height around the region and attracts thousands of tourists each year. Many of the visitors come intending to reach the summit of Devils Tower. Several routes up the butte have been established to make ascent possible and safe. One such route is the popular Durrance Route that is also one of the oldest. The routes differ in difficulty, with some being easy to scale up while others are among the most difficult in the world due to the steepness of the Butte.

Number of National Monuments

Presently there are 29 national monuments in the US and the Devils Tower is one of them. 30 states in the country are home to at least one national monument. The state of Arizona leads with the highest number of national monuments with 18. The states of California and New Mexico follow with 17 and 14 national monuments respectively.


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