Frederick Law Olmsted, Landscape Architect

View item information

A portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted, taken around 1860. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

Born in 1822 in Hartford, Connecticut, Frederick Law Olmsted was the son of a prosperous merchant. He did not attend college but rather worked in a wide variety of occupations - seaman, merchant, farmer, journalist and editor.

A journey to Europe to visit many grand parks and a friendship with Andrew Jackson Dowling, a prominent landscape designer, built his interest in parks and their role in an urban society. In 1857, he and Calvert Vaux, an English architect, submitted a design proposal for New York's Central Park and were awarded the commission. The partners coined the term "landscape architect" and the influential Central Park project launched a long and prolific career for Olmsted.

In addition to designing parks throughout the country, Olmsted also completed plans for the grounds of academic institutions, hospitals, zoos, cemeteries, country estates, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the US Capitol. During the Civil War he served as executive director of the US Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross. His appreciation of landscape and scenic views led to an influential role in the conservation movement, including advocacy for the preservation of natural wonders like Niagara Falls and Yosemite.

Frederick Law Olmsted died in 1903.