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Remember Zoo Windshields, Anyone?
(Reproduced from "Arrowhead" Magazine, spring 2001)
In the summer of 1922 Professor H. P. Cady of the University of Kansas, with his son and daughter made their annual trip to Yellowstone. Like other visitors of the day they prized the five-inch octagonal decal of the bison given out when they paid their entrance fee. The decal promptly went on the windshield! These popular decals were given out at 12 national parks, each featuring an animal, hence the term "Zoo Windshields," that appeared in the news articles on the parks at the time. The other 11 parks were Crater Lake (black bear), General Grant (Columbian gray squirrel), Glacier (mountain goat), Grand Canyon (beaver), Mesa Verde (coyote), Mt. Rainier (Columbian blacktailed deer), Rocky Mountain (big horn ram), Sequoia (the American elk or wapiti), Wind Cave (antelope), Yosemite (mountain lion) and Zion (porcupine). Horace Albright wrote "I recall that...we often had people come to the various gateways (of Yellowstone) and ask for a sticker, but refrained from entering....because the entrance fee was $7.5 per car. We issued orders to the rangers to tactfully tell the would-be visitors they could not have the sticker unless they bought an entrance ticket. This caused some trouble both in Washington and in the Park. In 1925 the Yellowstone fee was lowered to $3 and the problem disappeared." Long-time park naturalist Russ Grater recalls when working on the Grand Canyon Entrance Station in the early 1930's, the stickers were so popular that visitors often asked if they could have an extra one.
Director Steve Mather was concerned that due to the popularity of the decals and collections appearing on windshields that they constituted a safety hazard. For the 1923 season the size was reduced from five inches to four. That was apparently not enough to reduce the potential hazard. At the 1923 Superintendents' Conference a committee was appointed to address the issue including the possibility of discontinuing the program. Due to their popularity, however, the decals continued, but were further reduced in size to three inches in 1924, and finally to 2 _" in 1930. The decals were so popular that many parks and monuments wanted to hand them outÑeven parks that did not charge fees. In the mid 1920's and 1930's ten more areas were added to the program: Acadia (a seashore scene) introducing something other than an animal, Bryce Canyon (cliffs or breaks), Death Valley (first a prospector and burro and later changed to a covered wagon), Cedar Breaks (cliff or breaks), Devils Tower (naturally, the tower), Grand Teton (mountains), Hot Springs (the springs), Pinnacles (bird), Platt (bird) and Lassen Volcanic (mountain lion).
The first decals may have appeared in 1918 to alert rangers that the visitor had paid their entrance fee. Although not verified, there is some indication this program originated with Supt. W. B. Lewis of Yosemite. The decals came in a variety of colors, and on the reverse of each are safety messages. Throughout their history from 1918 through 1940 only a few design changes on the obverse are noted: Yellowstone did not have the bison in 1918 or 1919, Death Valley (noted above), Lassen (to a scenic view in 1937) and Sequoia (to a tree in 1929). The Yellowstone decals were blank on the reverse in 1918 and 1919 before the bison was added and Yosemite changed the reverse for 1938.
Designed to stick on windshields, these entrance decals became the ultimate piece of ephemera and a scarce piece of national park history. E&AA Life Member Ed Rothfuss and his wife Marge started collecting these about the time Ed retired from Death Valley NP to start a used and out-of-print book business specializing in national park books, paper and collectibles. Ed calls this article a "work in progress" as he continues research on the decals' origin and history. He now has 22 different parks (are there any more out there?), and 111 different decals. He would like to complete a collection and is interested if there were other design changes. Ed also has many duplicates he would love to trade and he is always a willing buyer. If you have information on these decals to share, Ed can be contacted via email at email@example.com or at the Rothfuss' summer home and bookstore at 850 Lake Blaine Road, Kalispell, MT 59901