Gifford Pinchot was chief forester for William Howard Taft when a scandal over Alaska coal got him fired, angered Theodore Roosevelt and sent Woodrow Wilson to the White House.
Pinchot was appointed as the nation's first chief forester by Roosevelt, but Taft kept him on after taking office in 1909.
Pinchot, like Roosevelt, was a committed conservationist. He was born Aug. 11, 1865 in Simsbury, Conn., into a family that had made a great fortune in lumbering and land speculation. His father, James Pinchot, was a wealthy wallpaper merchant; his mother, Mary Eno Pinchot, was the daughter of Amos Enos, one of New York’s most prominent real estate developers.
James Pinchot regretted the damage his family inflicted on the land, and he influenced his son to become a forester.
Gifford Pinchot graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and then Yale University before joining the forestry movement as a full-time occupation. In 1900, he and his father endowed the Yale School of Forestry.
He became a close friend of Roosevelt, who named him chief of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. They skinny dipped together in the Potomac, and Roosevelt called Pinchot his conscience on conservation.
Nine months into the Taft administration, the Ballinger Affair erupted.
On Nov. 13, 1909, Collier’s Magazine accused Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger of using his office to allow powerful interests like the Guggenheim family to exploit coal on Alaska conservation land. Pinchot openly criticized Taft for backsliding on the principles of conservation and democracy.
Taft immediately fired Pinchot.
The firing drove a wedge between Roosevelt and Taft, who'd been political allies. Roosevelt decided Taft had undermined his environmental accomplishments and had to be ousted. He failed to win the Republican nomination for president in 1912, formed the Bull Moose party and split the Republican vote, giving the presidency to Woodrow Wilson.
Ballinger was cleared of wrongdoing, and Gifford Pinchot went on to be elected governor of Pennsylvania. He died on Oct. 4, 1946.