This is the story of the canoe, that singular American artifact so little changed over time. Featured here are canoes old and new, from birch bark to dugout to carbon fiber; the people who made them; and the adventures they shared. With features of technology, industry, art, and survival, the canoe carries us deep into the natural and cultural history of North America.
Frank S. Nicholson, poster for the National Park Service, c. 1936–1940. This poster is from the NYC Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which sponsored artists of almost all stripes during the Great Depression. Nicholson was among almost ten thousand artists who were supported by the WPA’s Federal Art Project.
Howard Zahniser was a significant figure in the American environmental movement in the 1950s and 1960s. His work on the Wilderness Act of 1964—he is credited with writing most of it—was instrumental in its final passage.
Groups interested in preserving canoe country from development sprang up all over the continent. Canoes were often used as images of a free and quiet outdoors experience, including this poster with artwork by Francis Lee Jaques, ca. 1949.
The National Wild and Scenic River system, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, is an attempt to protect U.S. rivers in their natural state from development as much as possible. More than 12,500 miles of rivers have such protection.
The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, seen from above the critical platform, was at the time the worst spill in American history, later surpassed by the Exxon Valdez (1989) and Deepwater Horizon (2010) spills.
Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes enjoyed a high level of popularity among adults and children during his tenure; his advocacy for clean water extended beyond the Cuyahoga River controversy and included opening up neighborhood pools such as this one at Edgewater Park, on July 4, 1969. Utilities director Ben Stefanski (next to Stokes) joined the mayor for a swim.