Earth Day Information Center: The History of Earth Day

April 22, 2006 marks the 36th anniversary of the first observance of Earth Day.

Former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), Earth Day’s co-founder, said he modeled Earth Day on anti-Vietnam War demonstrations called “teach-ins” that then were common on college campuses:

“I visited Santa Barbara in the summer of 1969 to speak at a water conference, and then flew north to Berkeley to speak at a conservation conference. On the plane I read an article about the use of campus anti-war teach-ins to educate students about the Vietnam War. Suddenly the idea occurred to me: Why not devote a day to a nationwide teach-in on the environment?

Thus was born Earth Day. Eight months later, on April 22, 1970, 20 million people, 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 grammar and high schools and 1,000 communities mobilized for the first nationwide demonstrations on environmental problems. Congress adjourned for the day so members could attend Earth Day events in their districts. The response was nothing short of remarkable, and the modern American environmental movement took off.

My major objective in planning Earth Day 1970 was to organize a nationwide public demonstration so large it would, finally, get the attention of the politicians and force the environmental issue into the political dialogue of the nation. It worked. By the sheer force of its collective action on that one day, the American public forever changed the political landscape respecting environmental issues.”1


1 “A Brief History of Earth Day,” by Gaylord Nelson (1989), entered into the Congressional Record on April 20, 1990 by Senator David Boren (D-OK)

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