John Muir

By HaleyM027


John Muir was a naturalist, inventor, and a writer. His accomplishments have continued to inspire other scientists and writers as well. He taught people to protect the environment instead of building over it. Muir was determined to teach people that nature wasn't just the outdoors, but so much more. People should appreciate the environment a lot more then we really do. The truth was, Muir really didn't care much about nature before he realized that it was so important to the earth.
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Early Life
John Thomas Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland, on April 21, 1838. His last name, Muir, means stretch of wetland, which is ironic because he grew up to love nature so much. His love of nature began very young, and as a boy, he loved all things wild and outdoors. He lived in Dunbar, Scotland, where he was born, and he was lucky that there was no shortage of wildlife there. His earliest recollection of nature was taking short walks with his grandfather and gaze at all the creatures and nature. Muir had a Mom, Gilrye, a Dad, Daniel, two brothers, and four sisters. His family lived above a shop ran by Daniel, but business wasn’t usually so great. John and his siblings grew up in poverty with small portions of food such as oatmeal, porridge, broth, mutton, potatoes, and tea. None of these hold backs stopped John from studying. Even as a young child, he loved learning new things. He was sent to school before he turned three. As a teenager, Muir didn’t have time for school. In 1849, the Muir family immigrated to the United States and settled on a farm near Portage, Wisconsin. In 1860 Muir entered the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but he left without a degree in 1863, because there were only three topics that interested him, chemistry, botany, and geology.


John Muir was an environmentalist, inventor, and an author. He had a huge interest in the study of plants, especially growing them. After leaving Madison in 1863, Muir focused on mechanical inventions. He created a self- setting sawmill, a combination of a thermometer, barometer, and a hygrometer, and a pyrometer, and one of his most famous inventions, an alarm clock that tips you out of bed at the time you set it for. He called this genius idea, the “Early Rising Machine”. Over the next the next three years, he continued to work on mechanical inventions and solemnly took short wilderness trips. He spent a lot of the Civil War in Canada, possibly to avoid the draft, but most likely not. In 1867, while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis, Muir suffered a blinding injury that changed his life. He vowed that if he got his sight back, he would dump machinery and devote his life to nature. Sure enough, one month later, John got his sight back.

Muir walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. He sailed to Cuba, and later to Panama, where he crossed the Isthmus and sailed up to the West Coast, landing in San Francisco in March, 1868. California became his home for now. By 1871, he had found living glaciers in the Sierra. The next six years brought transformation. He worked as a shepherd, and then he ran a sawmill near the base of Yosemite Falls. He wasn’t just working; he was studying nature as well. He became a guide for some famous visitors like his idol Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson tried to pull Muir away from Yosemite, telling him to focus more on the lessons he had learned in school, but Muir stayed in the mountains. In 1874, Muir began a series of articles called “Studies in the Sierra”, which started his career as a writer. He left the Mountains and lived in Oakland, California. Muir took many trips, his first trip to Alaska in 1879, where he discovered Glacier Bay. Muir went into partnership with his father-in-law for ten years and managed the family fruit ranch with great success. Muir still felt like there was more to do. He traveled many more times to places such as Alaska, Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, Japan, and of course Sierra Nevada. He became fairly wealthy, but he was still worried. Each time he visited another place, he saw more and more proof that the wilderness would soon be gone. In later years, he focused more on writing. He published 300 articles and 10 books that told tales about his travels. He had many different kinds of readers, such as Presidents, Congressman, or just people, but either way, they were touched by his love and protection of nature. A series of articles began showing up in Century Magazine. Muir wanted people to see the devastation of mountain meadows and forests caused by sheep and cattle. Century’s associate editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, stepped in to help. He and Muir worked to solve this destruction. In 1890, the Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was also involved with the Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon national parks. Muir is sometimes called the “Father of Our National Park System”. In 1892, Muir and Johnson created a Sierra Club that protects Yosemite National Park. Muir was the club President until 1914, when he died. In 1901, Muir had published “Our National Parks”, which brought the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir in Yosemite. There, they talked about Roosevelt’s conservation Programs. The Sierra Club fought many battles to protect Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. The most vivid battle was the campaign to prevent damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley within Yosemite National Park. In 1913, the battle was lost and the valley was doomed to supply the water needs of the growing population of San Francisco.

Personal Life
In 1880, Muir married Louie Wanda Strentzel and moved to Martinez, California, where he raised his two daughters, Wanda and Helen. Louie was the daughter of Dr. John Strentzel, a noted horticulturalist in the Alhambra valley of California. She was a very talented pianist, known for her kindness and gentle nature. She preferred to stay home in Martinez when Muir traveled, though. Helen, the youngest, grew up to have four sons, and Wanda, the oldest, grew up to have six sons and one daughter.

Science Explained
Muir was really into growing plants, not just studying them. Plants grow through a process called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is when a plant basically gets food to stay alive, kind of like how we have to do that, too. When the sunlight is facing a plant, it gives energy to that plant, because the sun is energy. Carbon dioxide goes into the plant, and with that energy, oxygen comes out. Water gets to the plant from the roots. The whole earth is almost like a big cycle. John Muir was so protective to the environment because the environment keeps us alive! During the process of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide goes in, and oxygen comes out, because we breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide. If we didn’t breathe out carbon dioxide, plants couldn’t breathe out oxygen that we need.HMjohnmuirpowerpoint.JPG
John Muir died on December 24, 1914 in a Los Angeles Hospital after visiting his daughter Wanda. Muir died of pneumonia. Muir might have been the most famous writer and conservationist in this country. He changed our perspectives on nature. Before learning about him, I saw the wild as just the outdoors, but now I realize it’s something beautiful that we need to protect. Muir was influential to all people and always will be.

Fun Facts
  • There are about ten million trees cut down each day
  • John Muir’s favorite colors were purple and red
  • John Muir’s favorite flower was the White Mountain Heather, found in Yosemite

A+E Networks. “John Muir Biography”. A+E Networks, 2013.Web.9/21/13

Discovery Education. “John Muir”. John Muir 4(2013): video. Discovery Education. Web. 9/21/13

Ito, Tom. The Importance of John Muir. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1995. Print.

John Rafferty. The Living Earth, Conservation and Ecology. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2011. Print

The Sierra Club. “John Muir: A Brief Biography”. Sierra Club. The Sierra Club, 2013. Web. 9/21/13