Why was the Mountain Named McKinley in the First Place??

I was listening to the radio, really half-listening as I was doing morning chores upstairs, and I heard the radio announcer say something about President Obama’s trip to Alaska, and that Mt. McKinley was going to be called Mt. Denali.  In my half-listening state, I thought that the mountain was being renamed just for the time that President Obama was going to be visiting.

Mt. McKinley, now Mt. Denali

Mt. McKinley, now Mt. Denali


Fast-forward to later in the day, and I was listening more closely to ABC Radio News, and the reporter informed me that the mountain’s name change was a permanent change.  The reporter went on to say that the mountain was named Mt. McKinley in 1917.  I was waiting for the reporter to explain why the mountain was named after President McKinley, but no explanation came forth.  That bothered me more than the mountain name change.  So, in case you have no clue as to why the mountain in Alaska, the tallest peak in the U.S. was named after President McKinley, the 25th President, I’ll give you that information.


President William McKinley, a native Ohioan, was the last U.S. President to have served in the Civil War.  He had begun as a private and by the war’s end, had risen in rank to Brevet Major.  He earned a law degree, began to practice law in Canton and married Ida Saxton.  Politics came calling when he was elected to Congress in 1876, and he also served two terms as Ohio’s Governor, in 1891 and 1893.  His first term of the Presidency began in 1897.  He defeated his democratic rival, William Jennings Bryant, by promising a return to a sound dollar economy.

During McKinley’s first term, there was fast economic growth, he ordered and oversaw the U.S.’s win in the Spanish-American War, and the U.S. gained Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from Spain.  Hawaii also became an official U.S. Territory.

In 1900, McKinley ran for President for a second term and easily won.  6 months into this second term, on September 6th,1901,  he was at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, NY, shaking hands and greeting fellow Expo attendees.   McKinley loved to greet the public and talk with them and had a hard time agreeing to any protective agents around him.    A mentally disturbed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, was in this line and when he reached his turn to shake President McKinley’s hand, he shot the President twice, one bullet grazing President McKinley and one bullet entering his abdomen.

An artist's rendering of the assasination of President McKinley.

An artist’s rendering of the assasination of President McKinley.

McKinley  seemed to rally from his wounds, but on the 13th gangrene set in and on the 14th he died, which ushered in his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, to the highest office in the land.(I always find this bit of history amusing.  Roosevelt wasn’t liked by the establishment Republicans who ran the party, so to keep Roosevelt quiet, they gave him the Vice Presidency spot, not knowing that within 6 months the Republican they didn’t like would be the President!)

How did this tall mountain, the tallest in North America gain it’s name after the late President?  One William Dickey, a NH- born, Seattle-living outdoorsman, had led a group of gold prospectors to the Susitna River in June of 1896.  When the gold prospectors and Dickey got back from their trip, the first “real” U.S. news they read about in a newspaper was that William McKinley had been nominated by the Republican party as it’s nominee for the Presidency.  So, Dickey and his chums began to call the mountain Mt. McKinley.  This was also a dig at the many silver prospectors they ran into who were supporters of the Democrat nominee, William Jennings Bryant, who was a supporter of a silver standard, wanting the economic unit of account to be based on a fixed weight of silver and not gold.   With the death of President McKinley from an assassin’s bullet, sentiments grew to honor his memory and in 1917 Congress passed an order to name the mountain after McKinley.  President Woodrow Wilson signed the order into law.

Changing the name of the mountain doesn’t really bother me that much.  There’s been an idea to change it back  to Denali since 1975. (The mountain has also been called Bolshaya Gora, which means Big Mountain, in Russian, back when Alaska was under Russia’s control.)  What bothered me about this news story was the lack of information that was not given as to why the mountain came to be called Mt. McKinley in the first place.  Facts, news folks, I want all of the facts!

Lastly, political cartoonist Michael Ramirez made a funny drawing about this mountain naming brouhaha that I thought I’d share.



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