Note: We are revising this section of our website, which presents the Sierra Club's history in an insensitive and exclusionary way. We are committed to engaging more critically with our past and reckoning with the ways racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression have shaped our organization. Please check back soon for an updated page.
1890s The Sierra Club is founded on May 28, 1892, with John Muir as its first president (read more about John Muir’s complex legacy here). It quickly mobilizes to defeat a proposal to reduce the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. The Sierra Club urges strengthening of public forest policy and supports the creation of new national parks, including Grand Canyon.
1900s The Sierra Club begins an organized outings program, with annual trips to the Sierra Nevada. President Theodore Roosevelt visits Yosemite National Park with John Muir and, two years later, the Sierra Club’s campaign to return management of Yosemite Valley to the federal government from the State of California succeeds.
1910s The National Park Service is created, with Stephen Mather, a Sierra Club member, as its first director. The California legislature passes a law to support construction of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada.
1920s Sequoia National Park is expanded, and the Sierra Club successfully opposes dam sites in the Kings River region. Aurelia Squire Harwood becomes the first woman to serve as the Sierra Club’s president.
1930s Sierra Club members introduce modern rock-climbing techniques to the US. Photographer Ansel Adams visits Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress and the president to preserve Kings Canyon. The 210-mile John Muir Trail is completed.
1940s Kings Canyon National Park is established. The Sierra Club opposes an attempt to repeal the Antiquities Act, which is used to establish national monuments. The Sierra Club successfully defeats proposed dams in Kings Canyon and Glacier National Parks. During World War II, many Club members use their backcountry skiing and mountaineering skills in the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
1950s Grand Teton National Park and Olympic National Park are enlarged at the Sierra Club’s urging. A long but ultimately successful campaign stops dam construction in Dinosaur National Monument. The Sierra Club organizes its first volunteer-service outings.
1960s The landmark Wilderness Act is passed by Congress after a long campaign by the Sierra Club and others, marking the first time that public lands (9.1 million acres) are permanently protected from development. The Sierra Club also mobilizes public opinion to stop two dams in the Grand Canyon. But the cost of victory was high: Decision-makers chose to power the flow of water to the Southwest by building a massive coal-fired power plant on Navajo land. For more than four decades, the plant exposed members of the Navajo Nation to unacceptably high levels of air pollution. According to the Clean Air Task force, the plan caused an estimated 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits every year it operated.
1970s The Sierra Club helps organize the first Earth Day. Efforts of the Sierra Club and others—including Black community organizers who fought against destructive “urban renewal” projects—lead to passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Water Pollution Control Act. The Sierra Club also joins a successful effort to strengthen the Clean Air Act and works to pass the Endangered American Wilderness Act, which protects 1.3 million acres.
1980s A decade-long Sierra Club campaign leads to passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act—the largest land and water protection legislation in history. It instantly doubles the size of the national park system and protects more than 157 million acres of public lands in Alaska. The Sierra Club helps defeat Reagan administration attacks on the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws. The Sierra Club forms a political committee and makes its first electoral endorsements.
1990s The Sierra Club leads a grassroots effort to reauthorize the Clean Air Act and successfully lobbies Congress to pass the California Desert Protection Act, which establishes 7.6 million acres of new desert wilderness and expands both Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. The Sierra Student Coalition is organized. The Sierra Club forms an Environmental Justice program to address the disproportionate environmental burdens on low-income communities and communities of color.
2000s The Sierra Club defeats a plan to allow commercial logging in Giant Sequoia National Monument and stops the construction of 170 proposed new coal-fired power plants. The Sierra Club successfully advocates for the Omnibus Public Land Management Act—the largest public-lands conservation effort in 20 years.
2010s The Sierra Club works with President Obama to protect more than 4 million acres of public lands. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign becomes the most successful environmental initiative in history and is complemented by the Ready For 100 campaign, which encourages more than 100 US municipalities to formally commit to transition to 100% clean, renewable energy for generating electricity.
members & supporters
coal plants retired
kids getting outside per year
parks & monuments established