America the Beautiful first appeared in print in the weekly journal The Congregationalist, on July 4, 1895. The lyrics were written while on an 1893 summer lecture series at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
Looking at the view of the Rockies from Pikes Peak, its author, Katharine Lee Bates recalls, "It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind. When we left Colorado Springs the four stanzas were penciled in my notebook, together with other memoranda, in verse and prose, of the trip. The Wellesley work soon absorbed time and attention again, the notebook was laid aside, and I do not remember paying heed to these verses until the second summer following, when I copied them out and sent them to The Congregationalist, where they first appeared in print July 4, 1895. The hymn attracted an unexpected amount of attention. It was almost at once set to music by Silas G. Pratt. Other tunes were written for the words and so many requests came to me, with still increasing frequency, that in 1904 I rewrote it, trying to make the phraseology more simple and direct."
In addition to simplifying the phrasing and text, Bates made one change in the wording of the third stanza adding beautiful. The new version was published in The Boston Evening Transcript on November 19, 1904. While the poem was sung with a variety of tunes, it has almost exclusively adapted Samuel A. Wards Materna as its melody.