Origins of Earth Day, Environmental Movement Come to Life on New Website

A new website, “Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day: The Making of the Modern Environmental Movement,” tells the story of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson and how his idea, conceived as a “national teach-in on the environment,” became a historic turning point.

Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day contains more than 200 webpages with more than 500 original documents, images, quotes, video clips, and media from Nelson’s three terms as a U.S. senator from Wisconsin and his subsequent work as counselor of The Wilderness Society. The documents are from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s extensive collection of Gaylord Nelson papers donated by the former senator 20 years ago.

Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day is a remarkable resource for teachers, students, scholars, and citizens wanting to learn more about the values, people, ideas, and social movements that have come to shape the changing landscape of American environmentalism,” says Gregg Mitman, interim director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The website is a cooperative venture of the Nelson Institute, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Nelson family. The website was researched by Brian Hamilton and designed by Melanie McCalmont. Consulting scholar was Adam Rome.

“Gaylord Nelson is today best remembered as the father of Earth Day, but his political career offers a wider and more revealing window on the transformation of American environmental politics during the middle decades of the 20th century,” says UW-Madison environmental historian William Cronon. “Anyone interested in Nelson or the history of environmentalism will want to explore this site, which also offers a treasure trove of online documents as a model for how archival materials can be made more widely available over the web.”

Earth Day at 40 Exhibits and Conference

The Wisconsin Historical Society also plans two special exhibits beginning in March – one about Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day, at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in downtown Madison, the other about Gaylord Nelson’s life and career – at the Society’s headquarters on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The Nelson Institute will mark the anniversary with a public conference, “Earth Day at 40: Valuing Wisconsin’s Environmental Traditions, Past, Present, and Future,” April 20-21 at Madison’s Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.  Confirmed speakers include environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., author Margaret Atwood, and Wilderness Society president William Meadows.

For further details about the Web site, visit:

Information, images, and other resources to help journalists cover the 40th anniversary of Earth Day are available at:

For information about the historical exhibits and April conference, visit:

Leave a Reply