Howard Hays: Impresario of the Parks

Howard H. Hays (1883-1969) was an entrepreneur whose career ranged from driving surreys in Yellowstone National Park to running a newspaper publishing company in Riverside, California.

Howard Hays, ca. 1940
Box 5, Howard Hays papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

A native of Metropolis, Illinois, Hays attended college in his home state before moving to Montana in 1905 to “seek healthful outdoor employment.” After securing a position on a ranch in the Gallatin Valley, Hays found himself feeling hale and hearty once more.

Hays’ interest in nearby Yellowstone National Park led him to William Wallace Wylie who developed a system of permanent camps throughout the park. Hays soon joined the Wylie operation, and this opportunity launched the young Hays into a lifelong role as a national park concessioner and promoter of travel and tourism for America’s scenic treasures.

This is a postcard a visitor could send their friends that promotes the Wylie Permanent Camping Company’s accommodations in Yellowstone National Park, ca. 1914. A blurb on the back of the postcard reads: “Dear [insert name], I am entering ‘Wonderland’ today the ‘Wylie Way’ which means an ideal coaching and camping tour. They will send you a beautiful hand-book if you will address Wylie Company, Gardiner, Mont.”
Box 5, Howard Hays papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

From 1906 to 1916 Hays served as the traveling passenger agent for Wylie. He left Yellowstone for about three years to take a job elsewhere, but by 1919 he was once again in the national park, this time as president of the Yellowstone Park Camps Company.

Tourists traveled in style during their Yellowstone stay in a Wylie Permanent Camping Company coach, ca. 1910.
Box 5, Howard Hays papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Another spate of ill health forced him to sell the company in 1924, but the indomitable Hays was back to work by 1927, this time organizing and serving as president for Montana-based Glacier Park Transport Company, among other interests. Howard Hays’ son Tim recalled, “My early memories of the Transport Company are dominated by the eleven-passenger, convertible buses, painted red like the present buses, that carried thousands of tourists, noisily but safely, throughout the park, over many years. Their engines were started with a crank (at the front of the bus), the proper settings of the choke and the spark, and a prayer. Their air horns were a loud delight.”

The three photographs below from the Hays papers illustrate one of the problems he dealt with on muddy dirt “roads” in Glacier National Park. These tourists look like they want their money back.

At the time he formed this company, tourist roads in Glacier were limited to the east side of the park. The Going-to-the-Sun highway and Logan Pass would not exist for many years. On the west side of the park the only road ran from Belton to Lake McDonald. Hays also initiated international bus service beginning in 1927 with bus service running between Glacier Park and the new Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes Park, Alberta, Canada.

While operating the Glacier Park Transport Company, Hays was also president of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Company and had purchased and operated the Press-Enterprise Company in Riverside, California. He died in Riverside at the age of 85.

The Howard H. Hays papers at the American Heritage Center contain materials relating to his business in Glacier including operating statements, contracts, and correspondence for the Glacier Park Transport Company from 1927-1954 and some biographical items. The Yellowstone portion of the collection contains scrapbooks, photographs, and business receipts.

Post submitted by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


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