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The First Earth Day

By Patrick Mondout

On April 22, 1970, the first-ever Earth Day was celebrated. Though several people have attempted to take credit for founding Earth Day, credit properly belongs to former Senator Gaylord Nelson, environmentalists such as Denis Hayes and Sam Love, and the millions of concerned citizens who turned out for the event. Without these elements, there would not have been an Earth Day in 1970.

The story of its birth takes us back to the sixties. Senator Nelson was on a speaking tour of the west during July 1969 when the idea for a national Earth Day occurred to him. As he put it, "At the time there was a great deal of turmoil on the college campuses over the Vietnam War. Protests, called anti-war teach-ins, were being widely held on campuses across the nation. On a flight from Santa Barbara to the University of California at Berkeley, I read an article on the teach-ins, and it suddenly occurred to me, why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment? That was the origin of Earth Day." (You can read Senator Nelson's comments on the 10th anniversary of Earth Day on our sister-site here.)

Nelson returned to Washington and was motivated to write letters to all 50 governors and most major-city mayors explaining the event and requesting that they issue Earth Day Proclamations. He also prepared an Earth Day article explaining the event which he sent to college newspapers as well as to Scholastic Magazine, which went to most grade and high schools.

Activists worked with Nelson to plan the event and it was later announced that the Earth Day activities would take place in the spring of 1970. As you might have guessed, it was an earth-shattering success. An estimated twenty million people participated in peaceful demonstrations all across the country.

Earth Day Now

Earth Day activities take place in as many as 140 countries each year. Since most events and festivals are planned for weekends, Earth Day is observed on the weekends before and after April 22. Others also observe it on March 21, the Vernal Equinox, or on World Environment Day, June 6. During Gerald Ford's presidency, March 21st was proclaimed as Earth Day. Gerald Ford's dedication included these words: "The earth will continue to regenerate its life sources only as long as we and all the peoples of the world do our part to conserve its natural resources. It is a responsibility which every human being shares. Through voluntary action, each of us can join in building a productive land in harmony with nature."

Source: EPA.


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