On June 8, 1906, Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act. This simple law — just 423 words — granted Roosevelt and all future presidents a new superpower. With the swipe of a pen, a president could proclaim a national monument on federal land that held “historic or scientific interest.”
The Antiquities Act was designed to cut through government bureaucracy. No wrangling with Congress, no horse trading with legislators. If an area needed protection, the president could quickly protect it.
Over the past 110 years, 16 presidents — 8 Republican, 8 Democrat — have embraced the Antiquities Act, proclaiming more than 150 national monuments. Twenty eight of those monuments later became national parks, including Grand Canyon, Acadia, Grand Teton, Zion, Arches, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Olympic and Denali.