Colonel Richard Lieber
Cornelius Amory Pugsley Gold Medal Award, 1931
Richard Lieber (1869-1944) received the Pugsley Gold Medel in 1931. At the time of his death, Richard Lieber of Indiana was perhaps the most powerful and influential figure in the cause of conservation of natural resources in the United States. He was the father of Indiana's conservation and state park system, but he was an inspirational and influential man whose impact extended far beyond the boundaries of Indiana.
Lieber was born into an affluent family in Dusseldorf, Germany, and enjoyed the privileges and elite education accorded to young men in German upper-class society. After completing his secondary education at the Royal Lyceum in Dusseldorf, he spent a year in London in 1890 living with an English family as part of his educational "rounding-out." This broadened his perspective and stimulated a desire to go to America where two of his father's brothers had emigrated and settled in Indianapolis. He did not plan to remain there when he first arrived in 1891, but after a few months decided to make the US his home. Richard Lieber thrived while living with one of his uncle's families, married Emma Rappoport and was hired as a reporter by her father who owned The Indiana Tribune.
When his father-in-law sold the newspaper, Lieber decided to launch a business and opened a bottling works. Initially, it produced sodas and soft drinks, but later expanded to include alcoholic drinks. Lieber was a gifted salesman and the business flourished. His genial nature, talents as a raconteur, and strong interpersonal skills ensured his popularity with all who interacted with him. Even though he did not like business, it provided him with a prosperous living, enabling him to be financially independent for the rest of his life.
Two experiences awakened in young Lieber, a desire to work for the preservation of Indiana's natural beauty. In 1900, he made a six-week trip to California, which included a visit to Yosemite. He returned to Indiana with a new view of his adopted homeland. In 1904, Lieber and four or five other prominent Indianapolis citizens led a 45-day hunting, fishing and exploring expedition into wilderness areas in the Idaho and Montana Rockies. These trips made a lasting impression and were the foundation for his subsequent interest and work in conservation.
In 1908, Lieber was a delegate to a conference at the White House organized by President Theodore Roosevelt to discuss the nation's natural resources. This meeting was a turning point in the history of conservation in the US. From that time he became an ardent worker for "the conservation of our natural resources, historic features, and preservation of scenic beauty for the purpose of parks, game and bird sanctuaries." He began to write articles and make speeches on behalf of these conservation objectives.
Lieber became a prominent figure in civic affairs in Indianapolis and publicly advocated that Indiana should acquire some state parks. He first articulated this view in an article in 1908. In 1912, this fledgling movement received further momentum when the Fourth National Conservation Congress was held in Indianapolis with Lieber as its chairman. There were many senior political figures there including Woodrow Wilson with whom Lieber enjoyed a friendship extending through Wilson's subsequent tenure as President of the United States.
From his wide network of contacts in the conservation field, Lieber was aware that by 1916, which was Indiana's centennial year, one-third of the states had parks of varying nature. In recognition of the centennial, Lieber persuaded Governor Ralston to initiate a State Parks Committee, comprised of 20 members, and he became its first chairman. He was an articulate, erudite and mesmerizing speaker. His influence was reported in a 1917 newspaper editorial: "he has been the trusted friend and advisor of leaders in the city and state and he has achieved much of importance. His influence has been widespread and he has done splendid work for the Republican Party." No state funds were authorized for the acquisition or development of state parks, but Lieber's personal energy and array of influential contacts enabled him to raise privately donated funds to purchase Turkey Run and McCormick's Creek Canyon State Parks in 1916, without the use of state funds, ensuring the people of Indiana had a lasting memorial of the state's 100th anniversary of statehood.
When the governor appointed a military staff of 24 men in 1917 in response to the US entry into World War I, Lieber was one of eight who was given the rank of colonel and the position of Military Secretary to the Governor. For the rest of his life he was invariably addressed as "Colonel Lieber."
At the conclusion of the war, he convinced the state's new governor, James P Goodwich, who was a good personal friend, to expand the role of state parks by establishing a Department of Conservation. This brought together into one agency the existing divisions of Geology, Entomology, Forestry, Parks and Waters, and Fish and Game. When a bill to create the Department was first introduced in 1917, it was defeated by the Indiana Legislature. However, it was approved in 1919 when Republicans had a large majority in both houses. Lieber lobbied hard for the new agency pointing out, "in 100 years from now the great political issues will be forgotten, but our times will be noted for the beginning of that movement which is destined to protect our natural wealth." The history of the Department of Conservation from 1919 to 1933 is the story of its director's fight to check the needless waste of Indiana's natural resources. Lieber became its first director. His view was that, "Conservation is not a function but a principle." He was completely absorbed by his work as director and according to his wife; he "worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, devoting every waking hour to this mission." Typically, he made 200 speeches a year advocating the cause of state parks. For the first ten years of his tenure, Lieber's chief assistant was Captain Charles Sauer who subsequently was awarded the Pugsley medal for his work as superintendent of Cook County Forest Preserve in Illinois.
Lieber was constantly pressurized to make political patronage appointments. Although he was an active member of the Republican party, he refused all such requests asserting that politics had nothing to do with a person's ability to do the best possible work for the department. He was offered prestigious positions in Washington DC in recognition of his work for the Republican party, but he rejected them because he loved his conservation work so much.
Lieber was an inspirational figure and his enthusiasm for state parks and conservation was contagious. Newspaper editorials referred to his "amazingly charming personality." His array of contacts and propensity to travel were remarkable. For example, he represented the state at the inauguration of a new Mexican president and in 1921, after an extended visit home to Germany, he reported to US Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover on the state of Europe.
During Lieber's tenure from 1917 to 1933, ten state parks and five state memorials were established. Attendance increased from 33,000 in 1919 to 623,000 in 1932. The 1932 visitation level was several times greater than that of the national park system. In 1934 the National Park Service recognized three state park systems as being the nation's best: New York, California and Indiana. Given the much smaller wealth and population base of Indiana, this was a remarkable accomplishment. The land for all the parks, except Dunes, was purchased by local jurisdictions or local fundraising campaigns, and then given at no cost to the state, illustrating Lieber's power of persuasion. After their initial acquisition, almost all of the parks' boundaries were expanded; roads and structures were developed; and recreational and educational programs were introduced. Hotels were built in most of the state parks. They were operated by concessionaires and were very popular.
Under Lieber's guidance, the department grew rapidly. He was a far-seeing and educated man who had the ability to inspire both subordinates and important executive and legislative officials. The department's acheivments were largely explained through Lieber's remarkable personality. His direction led to the development of one of the nation's outstanding park systems because of the soundness of his philology and management. A contemporary observed, "It is rare indeed to find in one man philosophical depth and profound classical scholarship combined with high executive ability." His effectiveness was widely acknowledged and subsequent state governors reappointed him as director in 1921, 1925 and 1929. He had an extraordinary network of influential contacts moving comfortably among heads of state and enjoying the respect of, and access to, Presidents Wilson, Hoover and Roosevelt, cabinet officials and senior state officials. In whatever circle he moved, his charisma, intellect and social skills invariably resulted in his being the center of attention. Thus, when he received the Pugsley Award, it was presented by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and he was introduced by Secretary of Interior, Harold Ickes.
In 1933, a Democratic Indiana governor was selected. He dissolved the Conservation Commission. He offered Lieber the position of director of the Division of State Parks and Lands and Waters. This was effectively a demotion. Further, the governor indicated little support for parks and replaced his professional staff with patronage appointments, so Lieber resigned. However, he remained centrally involved with the parks movement. He was president from 1932-1939, and subsequently chairman of the board until his death, of the very influential National Conference on State Parks. In addition, Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes in 1935 appointed him chairman of the Advisory Committee of the National Park Service on State and Local Parkways and in 1937 he was appointed to the Advisory Board of National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments. His colleagues on this board were some of the most eminent archeologists, architects, historians and museum curators in the US, but even in this heady environment Lieber stood out. One contemporary on the board observed:
All the other members of the Board were at a disadvantage in any meeting because he could run circles around them in his thinking and in the way he phrased things and put his case...Every time he said anything, he made these scintillating phrases that carried conviction...I remember he talked once on the subject of regionalization. He said, 'Regionalization results in paper work: it's a bacillus that multiplies by dividing.' Snappy little remarks like that carry conviction in such meetings.These positions and associated consulting assignments, involved extensive travel around the country inspecting parks and reporting on the appropriateness of potential new parks sites for the National Parks system.
Lieber differed from many of his contemporaries in that he advocated charging modest entrance fees based on the premise that park visitors would value an experience more if they contributed to a park's upkeep. "The visitor who uses a particular park and gets the immediate benefit from it should contribute towards the cost of its operation and preservation. State parks ought to be made as nearly self-supporting as possible or else the cost will have to be put on the tax duplicate." This fundamental philosophy guided the subsequent administration of Indiana's state parks. For example, a resolution adopted by the Indiana Natural Resources Commission in March 2002 started out by saying:
WHEREAS, the Department of Natural Resources is in great measure founded upon the time-honored principles and ideals of Colonel Richard Lieber as set forth in 1917 in his Conservation of the New Patriotism and in other documents;
WHEREAS, in furtherance of this philosophy Colonel Lieber urged, in the development of state parks in Indiana and throughout the nation, that those enjoying our resources should contribute to their protection and maintenance through the payment of reasonable fees such as for admission, parking, and camping.
Lieber believed strongly in preserving parks in a natural state arguing that they should represent the "show windows" of a state. He referred to this in most of his speeches: "The purpose of a state park is to keep intact for all generations to come, a part of Nature's original domain"; "Let us be firmly determined to keep out of our parks all artificialities"; and "Like mighty altars of the Master stand these parks, masterpieces of creation and crowning glory of our country."
Richard Lieber died suddenly and unexpectedly while enjoying a vacation at McCormick's Creek State Park. Shortly before his death, he published a book, America's Natural Wealth: A Story of the Use and Abuse of our Resources (1942), which revealed him to be a student of economic problems in which soil, water, and wildlife are central factors; recognizing that national wealth depends on the appropriate use of land. A passage in the book has been widely quoted and it reveals both his philosophy and his eloquence.
From the sun and from the earth, the one the provider and the other the common mother, come our very life. This one fact, at least, must be clear to all, to the thinker as well as the toiler, to the grateful and careful user as well as to the most prodigal despoiler and reckless exploiter of her bounty. The earth, down to the deepest mine, every drop of water in her lakes, seas and rivers, the air itself which sweeps and energizes all things...these are not only our living abode, not only our last resting place, but the source of maintenance, our happiness and our prosperity. Like a living mother, the earth keeps a well-filled larder of wonderful variety to gratify our needs, our comforts, even our whims and the desire for luxuries. The earth is our common mother and her riches, therefore, belong commonly to all her children.Extracts from an editorial which appeared in The Indianapolis Times two days after Lieber's death are cited below. The comments are especially significant because this paper generally supported the Democratic party and was a frequently outspokenly critic of Lieber in the early years of his directorship of the department because he was an active Republican:
In 1957, the Indiana State Conservation Commission named the Cagle's Mill recreation area near Cloverdale in honor of Lieber. The area comprises 6,800 acres of land and 1,400 of water, the latter formed by the damming of Mill Creek to create the Cagle's Mill reservoir, one of the most attractive lakes in the state.
Richard Lieber was a man with a dream. He dreamed of making the beauty of Indiana an eternal thing; he dreamed of keeping the places blessed by the bounty of the Creator inviolate from the profanation of plow and ax so that his children and his children's children might walk with quiet and know beauty. He dreamed of giving the tired multitudes of the great cities a place to play and to learn from the sweep of great, green hillsides, from clear peaceful streams, from the architecture of cliffs and the serenity of flowered dells that there are some things in life that are greater than wealth or power. It was a dream which all could share---the poorest and the richest.
But unlike many other dreamers, Richard Lieber also was a man of action and he made his dreams come true. Few today can realize how hard he worked how ceaselessly he battled, how many difficulties of entrenched greed and shortsighted opportunism he had to overcome. He had great abilities, however, fired by inspiration, and their fruit may be seen in the present great system of state parks in Indiana.
Richard Lieber was a many-sided man, a truly broad man of the world, and there were numerous aspects to his career other than his interest in conservation. But it is as the father and creator of the state parks that he will be remembered.
Richard Lieber (1942). America's natural wealth: A story of the use and abuse of our resources. New York: Harper Brothers.
Emma Lieber (1947). Richard Lieber. Indianapolis: Privately printed.
Robert A Frederick (1960) Colonel Richard Lieber Conservationist and Park builder: The Indiana years. PhD Dissertation. Bloomington, Indiana; Department of History, Indiana University.