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Frederick Law Olmsted

Olmsted, Frederick Law, 1822–1903, American landscape architect and writer, b. Hartford, Conn. Although his Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England had appeared in 1852, Olmsted first attained fame for journalistic accounts of his travels in the American South during the early 1850s. In these works, published in book form as A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), A Journey through Texas (1857), A Journey in the Back Country (1860), and Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom (1861), he painted vivid pictures of the evils of slaveholding society. During the Civil War he served as secretary to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and pioneered various concepts of public health.

When Central Park in New York City was projected (1856), Olmsted and Calvert Vaux prepared the plan that was accepted two years later, and Olmsted superintended its execution. The well-planned public park was a new departure, which Olmsted developed in many other parks and cities, e.g., Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N.Y.; South Park, Chicago; Mt. Royal Park, Montreal; park systems in Buffalo and Boston; and the grounds of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. One of his most spectacular achievements was the laying out of the grounds for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which he afterward redesigned as Jackson Park. Olmsted also took an interest in the creation of college campuses, e.g., Berkeley (1864), and state and national parks. In addition, he designed parkways and was involved in city planning.

His son, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870–1957, b. Staten Island, N.Y., grad. Harvard, 1894, was also a landscape architect and city planner. He studied with his father and began practice in 1895. He taught (1900–1914) Harvard's first course in landscape architecture. As a city planner he served on many committees and government boards. In 1901 he was influential in the plan for beautifying Washington, D.C.

See F. L. Olmsted's Forty Years of Landscape Architecture: Central Park, ed. by F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and T. Kimball (1928, repr. 1973); The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, ed. by C. C. McLaughlin et al. (8 vol., 1977–2013)); biographies of the elder Olmsted by L. W. Roper (1974) and W. Rybczynski (1999); studies by J. G. Fabos et al. (1968), E. Barlow (1972), and C. E. Beveridge and P. Rocheleau (1995).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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