A founding member and the first president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, John Charles Olmsted was the nephew and then stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. Educated at Yale's Sheffield Scientific School, he then apprenticed in his stepfather's New York office, working on the U.S. Capitol grounds and other park and institutional projects. Olmsted joined his father in the planning of the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1898, after the retirement of their father, he and his younger half-brother, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., formed the Olmsted Brothers firm. Exposition work continued, including the1906 Lewis & Clarke Exposition in Portland, OR and 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. He terminated the firm's involvement for the 1915 San Diego Exposition rather than despoil the natural landscape of Balboa Park with planned structures.
Olmsted was an advocate both for the emerging profession of landscape architecture and for the value of comprehensive planning to develop healthful and attractive cities. The Olmsted firm took on the planning of park systems for numerous cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, Louisville, Portland, and Seattle. They also gained commissions for subdivisions, private residential work, and institutions. In his more than 40-year career, Olmsted saw the firm grow from 600 to 3,500 commissions, and consistently melded a picturesque aesthetic with pragmatic planning.