The Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Samuel Gompers: Biography & Facts

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy
  • 0:41 Progressive Republicans
  • 1:02 Ballinger & Pinchot
  • 2:17 Party Split
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy that took place during the Taft administration. It will highlight how this controversy not only affected Alaska and the environment, but the entire Republican Party.

Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy

Although recent generations may think they're the first to take up the banner of environmentalism, this supposition is really not true.

To prove this, let's take a look at the Pinchot-Ballinger Controversy of the early 1900s. Often called a scandal, the controversy centered on Alaskan land deals made by Richard Ballinger during the Taft administration.

Although it began as an environmental issue, the controversy's most lasting legacy is the split it helped form in the Republican Party. To understand this, let's get some background information.

Progressive Republicans

For starters, William Taft succeeded Teddy Roosevelt as president. Both Taft and Roosevelt claimed to be Progressive Republicans. For today's purpose we'll define this by saying they supported environmental issues and tried to curb the power of big business. Not only were they both Progressive Republicans, they were close political allies.

Ballinger & Pinchot

However, this all changed when Taft became president and started making decisions that seemed to favor big business. One of these decisions was the appointment of Richard Ballinger as Secretary of the Interior.

As Secretary of the Interior, Ballinger opened Alaskan land to private companies. In other words, he opened the doors for industry to mine in Alaska. Using some alliteration, this made Progressive conservationists see Ballinger as bad!

One such conservationist just happened to be Gifford Pinchot, the Head of the Forestry Division. Using some more alliteration, Pinchot was passionate about protecting the environment!

To put it mildly, when Pinchot and his department got wind of Ballinger's land deals, they were none too happy! He ordered the concerns to be taken to President Taft, but Taft dismissed them. But Pinchot and his group refused to be ignored, and some believe that someone in the department leaked the information to the press. Loving a juicy story, the press had a field day calling Ballinger a bad guy making money off of Alaska. Not only did Ballinger take the hit, the press also implicated Taft in the shady land deals.

Party Split

Denying any impropriety, Taft supported Ballinger and fired Pinchot. Unfortunately for Taft, this move dumped him out of the frying pan and into the fire.

First, it made him look even guiltier in the eyes of the public. Second, when Roosevelt and the other Progressive Republicans heard of Taft's actions they accused him off turning his back on conservation and the Progressive platform. With this, the controversy became very political.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account