Larger than life: the enduring legacy of Theodore Roosevelt

From environmental protections to federal oversight of standards of food safety, the 26th president's policies continue to shape American politics and life today.

Library of Congress
Theodore Roosevelt laughs in this historic portrait from June 17, 1919.

On what would be his 157th birthday, Theodore Roosevelt is getting a statue.

The 7-1/2-foot likeness of the 26th president of the United States was installed outside the mansion in Buffalo, N.Y., where he was sworn into office in 1901, following the assassination of President McKinley. The statue is being unveiled Tuesday.

Mr. Roosevelt was on a hunting trip in the Adirondacks when President McKinley died from a gunshot wound fired by an assassin at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.

A train brought Roosevelt to Albany, and then to Buffalo, where he was sworn in from a friend's mansion on Sept. 14, 1901.

The home that played host to the inauguration was later named Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.

In the seven years he was president, Roosevelt introduced many progressive policies, which still affect American daily life. He set up The Bureau of Corporations, a predecessor of the Federal Trade Commission, and an investigative body that took action against corporate monopolies. In the era of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," an expose of grisly conditions in the meatpacking industry, Roosevelt's Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act, introduced new consumer protections and oversight.

As a former president, Roosevelt continued to stay in politics, lobbying for public policy that would create "the core of the future federal government – old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, a graduated income tax, child labor laws, and women's suffrage," according to PBS's American Experience.

But perhaps his most celebrated role was as conservationist to the country's natural resources, and making resource protection a mainstay of executive power through the enacting of the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which gives presidents executive power to protect public lands.

Even in the face of rapid industrialization and competing business interests, Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service (USFS) and established scores of protected outdoor spaces: 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments, all through through the Antiquities Act.

During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land; foreseeing what US development could have on natural resources, he once wrote:

We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.

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