Books and journals

Gaylord Nelson in a classroom with children

When Gaylord Nelson was Wisconsin governor (1958-1962), one of his chief priorities was to create a mechanism by which the state could protect land from unrestrained development.

Bill Christofferson, The Man from Clear Lake: Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson (2004)

The authoritative biography of Gaylord Nelson, a work of exhaustive archival research and in-depth interviews with Nelson and others, written by Milwaukee journalist and political consultant Bill Christofferson. Al Gore heralds the book for not stopping at Earth Day: "Nelson's record on civil liberties, consumer issues, and Vietnam is remarkable. His story is an inspiration."

Preview it at Google Books. Purchase it at the University of Wisconsin Press website.

Gaylord Nelon, Beyond Earth Day, UW Press, 2002

Gaylord Nelson, Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise (2002) With Susan Campbell and Paul Wozniak & a Foreword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Near the end of his life, Gaylord Nelson presented this timely and urgent message to the planet, based on his decades of passionate advocacy and scientific study. Detailing our world's most crucial environmental concerns—from species and habitat losses to global climate changes and population control issues—Nelson offers his strategies for saving a fragile, living natural environment under ever-increasing threat.

Preview it at Google Books. Purchase it at the University of Wisconsin Press website.

Adam Rome, "'Give Earth a Chance': The Environmental Movement and the Sixties," Journal of American History 90 (September 2003): 525-554.

Noted environmental historian and Earth Day scholar Adam Rome (University of Delaware) argues that "the rise of the environmental movement owed much to the events of the 1960s" and examines environmentalism's roots in the work and thinking of midcentury liberals, middle-class women, and young radicals.

Gaylord Nelon, Beyond Earth Day, UW Press, 2002

Adam Rome, The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation. Hill and Wang.

In The Genius of Earth Day, the prizewinning historian Adam Rome offers a compelling account of the rise of the environmental movement. Drawing on his experience as a journalist as well as his expertise as a scholar, he explains why the first Earth Day was so powerful and brings one of the greatest political events of the twentieth century to life. A comprehensive and enlightening history of Earth Day 1970, one of the largest and most important political events of the twentieth century.

Book available at in hardcover and eBook.

Thomas R. Huffman, Protectors of the Land and Water: Environmentalism in Wisconsin, 1961-1968 (1994)

From the publisher: "Given the historical record, an important question is, why did Gaylord Nelson, and by implication the state of Wisconsin, play a major role in the rise of the modern environmental movement in the United States? In answering that question, this book outlines one approach to analyzing the origins of American environmentalism as a political phenomenon during the 1960s."

Order a University of North Carolina Press Enduring Editions or a copy from Amazon.

Finis Dunaway, "Gas Masks, Pogo, and the Ecological Indian: Earth Day and the Visual Politics of American Environmentalism," American Quarterly 60 (March 2008): 67-99.

Historian Finis Dunaway (Trent University) analyses the salient images and popular icons of the Earth Day era and describes "the ways in which visual culture helped popularize environmental concern but also obscured and deflected the movement's more radical ideas by framing it as a nonthreatening form of politics."

Read the abstract and purchase the article at Project Muse.

Environmental History

Environmental History (EH) is the world's leading scholarly journal in environmental history. EH brings together scholars, scientists, and practitioners from a wide array of disciplines to explore changing relationships between humans and the environment over time. In addition to refereed articles, this website offers a range of free online resources for educators, scholars, students, and the public. The Online Resources section and New Scholarship are excellent resources for learning more about environmental history.

Online resources

Wisconsin Historical Society: An Earth Day Photo Gallery in Gaylord Nelson's Honor

Online gallery The photographs in this gallery document his early life in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, and his career as Governor of Wisconsin, U.S. Senator, founder of Earth Day, and staunch environmentalist. Several images show Nelson with prominent people, many of whom were his close personal friends.

UW-Milwaukee Libraries / Milwaukee Area Research Center

The UW-Milwaukee Libraries / Milwaukee Area Research Center provides online access to a guide of the newsfilm series featuring Gaylord Nelson in the Newsfilm Series. The online newsfilm guide includes a chronological list of relevant film segments, and indicates whether these segments have been transferred to a videocassette access copy. These guides are not intended to be comprehensive. Researchers wishing to inquire about additional segments on a given subject, or additional subjects, should contact the UW-Milwaukee Libraries / Milwaukee Area Research Center.

The Wilderness Society

The Wilderness Society counts Gaylord Nelson as a past Councillor and advocate. The website has information about major environmental issues, environmental blogs, and more.

Wisconsin Historical Society links and resources

wisconsin historical society logo

Gov. Nelson tries to save unspoiled Wisconsin lands in 1961

When Gaylord Nelson was Wisconsin governor (1958-1962), one of his chief priorities was to create a mechanism by which the state could protect land from unrestrained development. His draft bill, the "Outdoor Recreaction Act Program" of 1961, took the proceeds of a penny a pack sales tax on cigarettes to fund the acquisition of lands needing preservation, the expansion of state parks, and other environmental initiatives. This short article published the following year reviews the law's initial accomplishements.

Voigt, L. P. "ORAP Gets Underway." Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin, vol. 27 no. 3 (May-June 1962): 3-6.
Online facsimile at:,48789

An overview of Earth Day, 1970

April 22, 1970, was the nation's first Earth Day. First proposed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1969, Earth Day was intended to raise environmental consciousness through rallies, symposiums, and discussions on college campuses and in cities across the country. This issue of Gaylord Nelson's Newsletter provides an overview of activities that occured on the first Earth Day.

Citation: "Earth Day 1970--Mass Movement Begins." The Gaylord Nelson Newsletter (Washington, D.C.: G. Nelson, 1970);
Online facsimile at:,49116

Gaylord Nelson seeks to bring the environment into the classroom, 1969

Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson was the driving force behind the establishment of Earth Day in 1970. Seeking to put the environment within the political mainstream, Nelson proposed a national environmental "teach-in" similar to those used by anti-Vietnam demonstrators, where students and teachers on college campuses would discuss environmental issues. Nelson also introduced a bill in November of 1969, the Environmental Quality Education Act, that mandated the development of environmental education programs in schools and provided educational grants to environmental organizations. The bill was passed in 1970.

Citation: "Environmental Teach-Ins and the Environmental Quality Education Act." (Washington, D.C.: G. Nelson, 1969);
Online facsimile at:,50416

Photographs of Gaylord Nelson throughout his career

Governor, lawyer and environmentalist, Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, in 1916. He served in the state senate from 1948 to 1958, became governor in 1958, and was re-elected two years later. He established the Outdoor Recreation Act of 1961 and served three terms in the United States Senate, during which he was the sponsor of Earth Day.

Speeches and other documents on Earth Day, 1970

This collection of nine items from the papers of Gaylord Nelson documents the creation of Earth Day in 1970 (a similar online collection is devoted to his other environmental materials, 1962-1973). It includes newsletters from Earth Day movement organizers, his schedule for the week that included the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), press releases and a speech given that day, and a long address given later that year reflecting on the events.

From the Gaylord Nelson Papers, MSS 1020, in the Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Online facsimiles at:

Speeches and other documents on environmental issues, 1962-1971

This collection of ten items from the papers of Gaylord Nelson documents his involvement in environmental issues before and after the creation of Earth Day in 1970 (a similar online collection is devoted to his Earth Day materials). It includes campaign brochures, addresses he gave on the campaign trail, and remarks delivered in other public settings.

From the Gaylord Nelson Papers, MSS 1020, in the Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Online facsimiles at:
Contact WHS in order to see the following materials:

  1. "Governor Gaylord Nelson and the North." (ca. 1962; campaign literature probably for Nelson's 1962 run for U.S. Senate explaining his accomplishments in conservation).
  2. "Nelson Begins Senate Fight on Resources, A Special Report from U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson," April 1963.
  3. "Conservation Address to Farm and Home Week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison," April 2, 1964.
  4. "America's Last Chance." Speech delivered to the Mid-Winter Meeting of the State Bar of Wisconsin, February 19, 1965.
  5. "Remarks on Natural Beauty in Wisconsin." Speech delivered at the Governor's Conference on Natural Beauty in Wisconsin, October 21, 1965.
  6. "Building a New Rural America." Speech delivered to a conference on "Building a New Rural America" at the Wisconsin Center in Madison, Wis., May 27, 1967.
  7. Conservationists for Nelson. "Gaylord Nelson - Conservation Senator." (Ca. 1968; campaign literature supporting his 1968 re-election).
  8. "State Ban on DDT." Remarks before the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Dec. 2, 1968.
  9. "Earth Week - 1971." Speech at at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, April 19, 1971.
  10. "Remarks to Joint Session of Wisconsin Legislature," April 20, 1971 (annotated in Nelson's hand).

Gaylord Nelson proposes an environmental agenda to Congress, 1970

On the opening day of the Second Session of the 91st Congress, Washington, D. C., January 19, 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson introduced a series of proposals to fight environmental pollution, ranging from the development of a pollution-free car engine to the elimination of non-returnable cans and bottles. Among the proposals on his agenda was a constitutional amendment stating simply that "every person has an inalienable right to a decent environment. The United States and every state shall guarantee this right." His efforts would spawn a national upsurge in environmental awareness during the first Earth Day, four months later.

Citation: Nelson, Gaylord. "An Environmental Agenda for the 70's." (Washington, D.C.: G. Nelson, 1970)
Online facsimile at:,49049