Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Promotional Imagery of Glacier National Park

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Promotional Imagery of Glacier National Park

Article excerpt

Imagining the West was the armchair avocation of millions of Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Popular fiction, landscape paintings and sketches, travelers' accounts, newspaper articles, and promotional materials defined the regional character of the American West for an ever larger and always curious national population (Smith 1950; Etulain 1982; Trenton and Hassrick 1983; Athearn 1986; Fifer 1988; Kinsey 1992; Wyckoff and Nash 1994). After 1870 the tourism industry increasingly defined popular images of the West as part of an initiative to convince middle- and upper-class Americans to consume the region's natural and cultural wonders (Athearn 1986, 131-159; Fifer 1988; Shaffer 1994). With the completion of the first transcontinental rail line in 1869, railroad companies became ever more important participants in these marketing efforts (Hyde 1990; Pomeroy 1990; Runte 1990; Orsi, Runte, and Smith-Baranzini 1993; Shaffer 1994, 1996; Wilson 1997). In this paper we examine the promotional imagery used by the Great Northern Railway to encourage travel to northern Montana's Glacier National Park (Historical Research Associates 1980, 64-102; Hyde 1990, 53-146, 281-295; Schene 1990; Lambert 1996). The diversity, enthusiasm, magnitude, and success of these promotional efforts exemplified the role of western American railroads in creating popular images of the West.

Glacier National Park proved central to the commercial fortunes of the Great Northern's transcontinental railroad route. Created in 1910, the park sat strategically along the Great Northern's trunk line between Minneapolis and Seattle (Figure 1). It was in Glacier, with its towering peaks, surefooted mountain goats, and romanticized Native Americans, that the Great Northern defined an image of what made the West a region of mythic character and a place where ordinary Americans could experience extraordinary things. The Great Northern's promotional imagery, richly expressed in words and pictures and repeated across America, offers an ideal avenue for exploring how Glacier Park was packaged and marketed through a series of powerful, place-based symbols (Shaffer 1994, 93-95).


Black-and-white photographs offer a rich archival record of the evolution of regional cultural identities and the part played by landscape imagery in their creation (Hales 1988; Edwards 1992; Jenkins 1993; Hegeman 1994; Wyckoff and Nash 1994; Schwartz 1996). Great Northern promotional photographs, which appeared in hundreds of American newspapers between 1911 and 1930, allow reconstruction of the company's image-making campaign that centered on Montana's Glacier National Park. Visual imagery amounts to an invaluable text displaying the origins and intermingling of corporate ideologies, popular stereotypes, and cultural predilections that shaped how Americans experienced one of the West's largest and most popular national parks (Hyde 1990; Barnes and Duncan 1992, 5-8; Wyckoff 1995; Rowntree 1996, 145-147).


Understanding propagation of regional images serves several purposes. It allows us to reconstruct with accuracy the history of place perceptions and to explore the origins of the imaginative geographies that still shape popular regional images (Athearn 1986; Shortridge 1989). Studies of place images create explicit contexts--cultural, social, political, and economic--that help us understand how the West evolved as a distinctive American region (Hyde 1990; Wyckoff and Nash 1994). Assessments also explore national values and the larger political and economic processes played out within western settings (Smith 1950; Athearn 1986, 271-272; Shaffer 1994, 2-3).

Tourism contributed to the creation of many American landscapes, and the promotion of tourism played a similarly formative role in shaping popular perceptions of American regions (MacCannell 1976, 3-4; Shaffer 1994, 2-3, 11-13). …

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