On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans across the United States celebrated the first Earth Day. The goal of this event was to emphasize the critical importance of the environment
and to make legislators and the American public aware of the growing destruction of the earth’s natural resources. The founder of Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson, had hoped to start an environmental movement so large that it would force politicians to address environmental issues.
His efforts were successful. The first Earth Day got the attention of lawmakers, and as a result, environmental preservation became a national concern. That year the Environmental Protection Agency was created, and Congress amended the Clean
Air Act to set new standards on air quality, and limits on pollution and auto emissions. Year after year new legislation was enacted to further protect and clean up the environment.
The idea for Earth Day came to Senator Nelson in 1969 while he was on a conservation speaking tour in California. Nelson had read about the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and teach-ins on college campuses. This gave him the idea for Earth Day, which he envisioned as a similar kind of teach-in—a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment. With no sponsoring organization or formal plans for the event, Nelson announced the first Earth Day to be held the following spring on April 22—Arbor Day. The idea was embraced enthusiastically by people and organizations across the nation, and the event rapidly gained momentum.
Americans of all ages and from all walks of life celebrated the day in their towns and local communities. Musicians performed songs about nature and protection of the earth. Celebrities spoke about environmental issues, and explained what Americans could do to conserve and recycle. Federal agencies offered expositions showing their efforts in stopping wasteful practices and pollution of the environment. Conservation groups taught about the importance of rain forests and showed how their destruction would impact all life on the planet. Classrooms across the nation introduced curricula on ecology, nature and environmental preservation.
Earth Day continues to be celebrated every year, and has grown into a global event. It has helped Americans, and others the world over, realize that they are stewards of the earth, and they can and should do something to protect the environment.