Historical Markers
Harold L. Ickes [Environment] Historical Marker
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Harold L. Ickes [Environment]

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
Altoona Area High School, 1415 Sixth Ave.

Dedication Date:
September 26, 1994

Behind the Marker

Harold L. Ickes, seen here at his desk in his office.
Harold L. Ickes soon before his appointment as Secretary of the Interior, February...
A native son of western Pennsylvania, a Chicago lawyer, and a Washington insider, Harold Ickes was a man Americans came to know in radio addresses during the Great Depression. "I love nature," Ickes told a radio audience on March 3, 1934. "I love it in practically every form - flowers, birds, wild animals, running streams, gem-like lakes and towering, snow-clad mountains."

Growing up in markerAltoona, Pennsylvania, home of the world's largest railroad works, Ickes had witnessed first-hand the human and environmental costs of modern industry. After his family moved to Chicago when Ickes was sixteen, he worked as a newspaper reporter, earned his law degree, and became active in Chicago politics as a reform Republican and president of the Chicago NAACP. Ickes' move to the national stage took place when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, after his election as president in 1932, sought out a liberal Republican for his cabinet.

Several official-looking gentlemen are seated around a picnic table about to have lunch. Looking on is a large group of young men. In the background tents are visible.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harold Ickes at CCC Camp # 350 in Virginia's...
In 1933, Ickes became FDR's Secretary of the Interior, and soon found himself director of the Public Works Administration, the massive federally financed public works program that would spend more than $6 billion to provide employment for unemployed workers and help revive the economy during the Great Depression. From the start, Ickes also committed the Department of the Interior to the protection of natural resources. A few weeks after his appointment, Ickes proposed radical changes to the department, suggesting that it take control of all federal bureaus that dealt with environmental resources and that it be renamed the Department of Conservation.

Ickes was unable to rename the department or consolidate environmental agencies. He did, however, succeed in reforming the nation's environmental policies and in making the federal government a better steward of the land under its charge.

Ickes had first fallen in love of the wilderness of the American west in 1916 when he toured Glacier National Park on horseback. While he had a deep love of untamed nature – he spoke about it throughout his public and private life – the policies he advocated were often development-oriented. Under Ickes' management, the Department of the Interior oversaw the damming of some of the nation's great rivers and scores of other projects that forever altered natural ecosystems for the purpose of rural electrification, economic development, and social progress.

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes congratulates Miss Marian Anderson from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Harold Ickes congratulates Marian Anderson after her performance at the Lincoln...
On other issues, Ickes proved to be one of the most influential environmental advocates of his generation. Under his leadership, the Department of the Interior moved away from its history of scandal, bribery, and mismanagement, and became a modern department that fostered the growth of the nation's park systems and tackled the agricultural crisis of the 1930s.

When dust blew away the topsoil of the American west in great clouds that darkened the skies as far away as Washington, D. C., Ickes supervised the development of the Soil Conservation and Grazing Services, two agencies that would better conserve soil, regulate agriculture, and attempt to halt deterioration of the 173 million acres within the public domain that ranchers used for cattle grazing.

At the same time, the Department of the Interior drew on the expansive budget of the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the manpower of the markerCivilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide erosion control assistance on 40 million acres and to teach terracing, contour plowing, and other sound environmental farming techniques.

During the Great Depression, PWA and CCC workers developed five state parks in Pennsylvania, and more than 800 nationwide. Ickes was also responsible for the dramatic enlargement of the National Park System and fought to see parklands preserved as wilderness areas with minimal human alterations.

Through it all, Ickes maintained a sterling reputation. Well known for being tough, stubborn, and at times brutally honest, he won respect for preventing corruption within the enormous federal projects he sponsored. Stepping down from his cabinet position in 1946, Ickes remained active in Washington until his death in 1952.

To learn more about Harold Ickes' work during World War II, markerclick here.
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