Things you need to know

This website has a rich store of material — where do you start? What's interesting?

I want a quick overview


To get a good 15 minute overview of the website, try the follwing pages in this order:

  1. Meet Gaylord Nelson, a summary of his career and involvement with Earth Day
  2. Discover Earth Day, an overview of the1970 national day of protest, learning, and activity for the environment
  3. Video clip of Earth Day 1970, Gaylord Nelson speaks in Milwaukee about why Earth Day is historic and important.
  4. Nelson speech notes from 1990 about how he founded Earth Day and why it's still important

Why was Senator Nelson so involved with the environment?


To discover the story of how Wisconsin and Nelson changed the world, try these stories:

  1. Growing up in Clear Lake
  2. A new Governor and a new party for Wisconsin
  3. Joining the liberal revolution in Washington
  4. Redefining environmentalism in the 1960s
  5. Earth Day: a simple idea, a world of change
  6. Building an "environmental decade"
  7. A former Senator fights on
  8. The Nelson legacy: for us and our future

How and why did Earth Day get started?

ecology e

To get the chronological story of how Senator Nelson founded Earth Day and what happened on Earth Day, follow these pages in order:

  1. Earth Day: an introduction
  2. Modest beginnings: Nelson's idea on a plane
  3. A proposal reprinted across the country
  4. Choosing not to be in charge
  5. A diverse coalition of supporters
  6. Organizing at the grassroots
  7. April 22, 1970
  8. "The wrong kind of pollution": Earth Day critics
  9. The living tradition of Earth Day

And then visit the Website Index to see more primary documents

What is "modern environmentalism"?


To view documents that summarize or explain how the modern environmental movement is different than resource conservation, try these documents:

  1. Two Entwined Stories, a summary by William Cronon, UW-Madison, on modern environmentalism
  2. Video of Nelson on the first Earth Day, describing why environmentalism means more than nature and pollution
  3. The "environmental decade" that changed America
  4. The power of grassroots involvement
  5. Speech by Nelson on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day about environmentalism

I'm a teacher and want to use this material in my class

classroom of childredn

Depending on your grade level taught, try the following:

  1. Website index of primary documents and images (sort by column heading)
  2. More resources online from the Wisconsin Historical Society
  3. Videos of Gaylord Nelson
  4. Nelson's famous speech in Congress about the environment and 11 point agenda for change
  5. Packet sent for teachers on Earth Day 1970
  6. Packet sent to high schools to get ready for the first Earth Day
  7. Schools ask Nelson to join them on Earth Day 1970
  8. The 25th anniversary globe and how students participated
  9. How Earth Day organized itself in each community, and why that is important
  10. A list of what some people in Madison did on Earth Day 1970

Show me some unique documents!

earth day 25 sticker

Here's some documents that are very interesting and new online!

  1. A typed memo about the first "teach-ins" in history
  2. A photo of Nelson with Chevy Chase and Tia Nelson
  3. Letters from business executives who didn't like Earth Day
  4. A Nelson re-election pamphlet with photos
  5. Some letters between President Kennedy and Senator Nelson
  6. Nelson's marked-up speech notes denouncing racist "domestic terrorism" in Mississippi
  7. A 1957 Democratic party campaign pamphlet
  8. A photograph of the young activists who helped Nelson organize the first Earth Day
  9. The Fred Dutton proposal for Earth Day, with top-down control Nelson did not agree with
  10. Election results from the 1958 governor's race
  11. Map of a tree Nelson planted on the Washington Mall in honor of the State of Wisconsin

Top source documents — why or how Nelson founded Earth Day

Gaylord Nelson

  1. 1969 - Gaylord Nelson Newsletter from Senate November 1969 re: earliest Earth Day plans
  2. 1969 - Gaylord Nelson proposes to Congress a national day for the environment, October 8, 1969
  3. 1970 - See also longer Congressional speech with environmental agenda and proposed constitutional amendment, January 19, 1970
  4. 1971 - Gaylord Nelson's letter to Frank Stanton of CBS News, April 17, 1971
  5. 1990 - Gaylord Nelson statement to the Beyond War Society, December 1990
  6. 1993 - Gaylord Nelson explains the timeline of his Earth Day idea and discusses attributions of Earth Day to John McConnell

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