"If these people were on the skyline, and kept their eyes open, they would see the things that the giant could see."
- Benton MacKaye, 1921

Benton MacKaye had a Giant Vision


James Neill, 2003

In his 1921 essay, MacKaye was deeply concerned with the problems of how people were being effected by the effects of war, by a full-throttle industrial society, and by the problem of society in which there was not enough work for everybody and yet there was ineffective use of available leisure time.  According to King (2000, p.3) the essay "reacted to the shocks of the war and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and to the emerging technologies of petroleum, petrochemicals, and pharmaceuticals after nearly a century of rapid industrialization".  MacKaye wrote: 


"Let us assume the existence of a giant standing high on the skyline along these mountain ridges, his head just scraping the floating clouds. What would he see from this skyline as he strode along its length from north to south?


Starting out from Mt. Washington, the highest point in the northeast, his horizon takes in one of the original happy hunting grounds of America - the "Northwoods," a country of pointed firs extending from the lakes and rivers of northern Maine to those of the Adirondacks. Stepping across the Green Mountains and the Berkshires to the Catskills, he gets his first view of the crowded east - a chain of smoky bee-hive cities extending from Boston to Washington and containing a third of the population of the Appalachian drained area. Bridging the Delaware Water Gap and the Susquehanna on the picturesque Alleghany folds across Pennsylvania he notes more smoky columns - the big plants between Scranton and Pittsburgh that get out the basic stuff of modern industry - iron and coal. In relieving contrast he steps across the Potomac near Harpers Ferry and pushes through into the wooded wilderness of the southern Appalachians where he finds preserved much of the primal aspects of the days of Daniel Boone. Here he finds, over on the Monongahela side the black coal of bituminous and the white coal of water power. He proceeds along the great divide of the upper Ohio and sees flowing to waste, sometimes in terrifying floods, waters capable of generating untold hydro-electric energy and of bringing navigation to many a lower stream. He looks over the Natural Bridge and out across the battle fields around Appomattox. He finds himself finally in the midst of the great Carolina hardwood belt. Resting now on the top of Mt. Mitchell, highest point east of the Rockies, he counts up on his big long fingers the opportunities which yet await development along the skyline he has passed."