Photo Friday: Flashback with Historical Photos of Glacier National Park

Historical photographs of Glacier National Park provide a glimpse into the past. The national park in Montana has digitized photos from the 1940s through the 1960s, which are available through the Montana Memory Project. Funding from the federal Library Services and Technology Act and support from Glacier National Park Conservancy made the project possible. The old photographs were originally commissioned by the publicity department of the Great Northern Railway and were used as promotional pieces, encouraging tourism to the park. The railway promoted legislation that led to the establishment of Glacier National Park and the president of the company invested in local hotels, boats, roads, and chalets. The railway developed the slogan “See America First” to promote tourism to the park. 

Tourists hike the Grinnell Glacier with Mt. Gould visible in the background, ca. 1940-1965 (Source: MontanaMemory Project)
Boat “Chief Two-Guns” docked on Lake Josephine, Mt. Gould in the background ca. 1940-1965 (Source: MontanaMemory Project)

The digitized photographs reveal what tourism was like in the mid-20th century. The photos show tourists experiencing the glaciers, mountains and lakes within the park through a range of activities. They depict the Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier Park Lodge, scenic tours, boating activities on picturesque lakes, and horseback riding through the mountainous landscape.

Horseback riding to the Grinnell Glacier, along Lake Josephine ca. 1953 (Source: MontanaMemory Project)
Tourists peer into a crevasse on a ranger-guided tour of the Grinnell Glacier ca. 1956 (Source: MontanaMemory Project)

Today, Glacier National Park is still a popular tourist attraction, but its landscape has changed drastically in the decades since the photographs were taken. According to the Glacier National Park website, when the park was first established in 1910 it was home to more than 100 glaciers. There were still 35 named and active glaciers within the park as of 1966. However, by 2015 there were only 26 named glaciers remaining. Glaciers within the park are melting, with some having lost as much as 85% of surface area. The recently digitized photos are a wonderful throwback. Additionally, they provide evidence of a landscape marked by climate change. Visit Glacier National Park’s official website to learn more about its melting glaciers and to view side by side photographs of glaciers in the early 1900’s and today.

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