Issue Date: January 16, 2009
City: San Diego, CA
Old Faithful Geyser
On September 18, 1870, a group of explorers gave the Old Faithful geyser its name.
During the 1830s, legendary mountain man Jim Bridger returned from Wyoming’s remote Yellowstone region with fantastic tales. He claimed he had seen waterfalls that spouted upwards! While many didn’t believe his story, some were excited about what they heard and launched expeditions to see it for themselves.
In 1870, Surveyor General of Montana Henry D. Washburn used information collected from the previous trip to form his own expedition of 19 men. These included Nathaniel P. Langford, Truman Everts, and military escort Gustavus C. Doane. Within two weeks, they came across “boiling sulfur springs” that were too hot to touch, even wearing gloves, and they knew all the rumors were true.
Then on September 18, 1870, the expedition made their way down the Firehole River to the Upper Geyser Basin. They then saw their first geyser. Langford captured the experience in his journal: “It spouted at regular intervals nine times during our stay, the columns of boiling water being thrown from ninety to one hundred and twenty-five feet at each discharge, which lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes. We gave it the name of “Old Faithful.”
In 1872, Old Faithful received federal protection when President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation creating Yellowstone National Park. The 3,468-acre park was the first of its kind, featuring half of the world’s geothermal features with Old Faithful as its crown jewel.
Old Faithful shoots up to 8,400 gallons of boiling hot water up to 185 feet in the air for about 1.5 to 5 minutes at a time. The average eruption is usually about 145 feet and the time between eruptions varies between 35 and 120 minutes. Old Faithful’s reliability is due to the fact that it isn’t connected to other thermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin. Old Faithful isn’t the tallest or largest geyser in the park, that honor goes to the Steamboat Geyser. Today, the geyser and nearby inn are part of the Old Faithful Historic District.
Click here for videos of Old Faithful eruptions and more from the NPS.