Sept. 18, 1870: Old Faithful gets its name

Christy Karras
Christy Karras

With its plume of frothy hot water spouting into the air every 90 minutes or so, Old Faithful is one of the biggest draws in Yellowstone, one of America’s most popular national parks.

Visitors have loved the reliable geyser ever since the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition first came upon it in 1870 and gave it a fitting moniker.

One member of the party, Nathaniel P. Langford, later recalled the moment the group came upon “an immense volume of clear, sparkling water projected into the air to the height of one hundred and twenty-five feet….spurring our jaded horses, we soon gathered around this wonderful phenomenon. It was indeed a perfect geyser.”

Before organized parties explored the area, folks had heard mountain-man tales of mud pots, water spouts and colorful formations, but they were thought to be exaggerating. But after teams of explorers confirmed the stories, the forerunners of today’s curious tourists started streaming into what is now Yellowstone National Park.

These days, people from around the world come to see this iconic symbol of the park. A lucky few nab reservations at Old Faithful Inn, but anyone can buy a beverage and relax on its timbered deck. Just before eruptions are due to start, crowds expectantly tread the boardwalks, waiting to gaze in awe at that next eruption.

Early residents of the area used the geyser for a more practical purpose: hot-water clothes washer. They simply piled their clothes at the geyser’s base before it went off, and by the time the eruption had ended, the clothes that weren’t shredded were wonderfully clean.