John Muir lived from 21 April 1838 to 24 December 1914. Of Scottish origin he was a noted US naturalist, explorer, writer, and geologist: and he was an environmentalist decades before anyone would really have recognised the description. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
At the age of 11 in 1849, Muir moved with his family to a farm in Wisconsin. His education progressed as far the University of Wisconsin, but he never graduated. Instead he spent 1866 working as an industrial engineer in Indianapolis, before setting off to walk the thousand miles from Indiana to Florida simply looking at the world around him. A bout of malaria prevented the planned onward trek through South America, so he went to California instead.
In early 1868, Muir travelled for the first time to Yosemite. After his first view of Yosemite Valley he wrote, "No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.... it is the grandest of all special temples of Nature." Muir was so entranced with the area he took a series of locally based jobs to allow him to roam and study the valley and the Sierra Nevada.
A prolific writer, Muir made an early mark with his (at the time radical and controversial) theories about glacial formation of the Yosemite area. He then went on to publish a series of studies about the Giant Sequoia trees found in the Yosemite Valley.
From 1889 Muir was at the forefront of moves to have the Yosemite Valley declared a National Park: and the following year he achieved a partial success when the area was placed in state control. In May 1892 he founded the environmental lobby group, the Sierra Club, and served as its president until his death in 1914.
In 1903 Muir accompanied President Theodore Roosevelt on a visit to Yosemite. On the journey there Muir was able to convince the president that the park should be protected by the Federal Government rather than by State Government. But having won his battles over Yosemite, Muir was unable to prevent the government approving a dam project in another nearby valley. He felt he had lost his last great battle, and died a year later, on Christmas Eve 1914.
Muir is remembered both in his native Scotland and in the USA. As well as his birthplace, a country park west of Dunbar is named after him, and the John Muir Trust work for the preservation of Scotland's wild places. In the States, his memory continues in the name of the John Muir Trail, the John Muir Wilderness, the Muir Woods National Monument, and in John Muir College, a residential college of the University of California. And in 2005 his image appeared, along with the California Condor and Half Dome Mountain, on the California state quarter dollar.