Earth Day Roots From Wisconsin Idea

April 22, 1970 was the first ever Earth Day, and it marked the beginning of the environmental movement in the United States. Although Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world, many Wisconsinites don’t know that it began close to home! Earth Day was founded in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsin's 35th governor and a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate. UW students may recognize Nelson as the namesake for the university’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Growing up in the beautiful Northern Wisconsin gave Nelson a deep appreciation for nature. His political career as Wisconsin’s governor and United States senator focused heavily on environmental issues and on bringing environmental education to public schools. In 1985, Wisconsin became the first state to require environmental education in elementary and high schools. In addition to being the father of Earth Day, Nelson was also instrumental in the introduction of the Environmental Protection Agency and other important environmental legislation.

Although he passed away in 2005, Nelson’s legacy lives on in Wisconsin and around the world. From its grassroots beginnings, Earth Day has grown into a globally recognized event for people to celebrate the beauty of our world and to protest environmental issues. Today, we face a global crisis due to depleting natural resources and deteriorating ecosystems; Learn how you can make a difference on Earth Day 2018, or check out upcoming events through the Nelson Institute.