… was established 160 years ago today.
The idea of setting up a separate department to handle domestic matters was put forward on numerous occasions. It wasn’t until March 3, 1849, the last day of the 30th Congress, that a bill was passed to create the Department of the Interior to take charge of the Nation’s internal affairs.
The Interior Department had a wide range of responsibilities entrusted to it: the construction of the national capital’s water system, the colonization of freed slaves in Haiti, exploration of western wilderness, oversight of the District of Columbia jail, regulation of territorial governments, management of hospitals and universities, management of public parks,and the basic responsibilities for Indians, public lands, patents, and pensions. In one way or another all of these had to do with the internal development of the Nation or the welfare of its people.
The first Interior Building, 1852 -1917, was later known as the Patent Office building, and today is home to the Smithsonian Institution’s Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art.
Interior manages 507 million acres of surface land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States, including:
- 262 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management
- 95 million acres managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service
- 84 million acres managed by the National Park Service
- 56 million acres managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs
- 8.6 million acres managed by the Bureau of Reclamation