Earth Day: history and Maine’s leaders

Earth Day was first observed on this day in 1970. Leading the efforts to bring public awareness to environmental issues was U.S. Senator Gaylor Nelson from Wisconsin. In 1963, Senator Nelson and President Kennedy traveled through 11 states on a Conservation Tour, which to the disappointment of Nelson, did not publicize the need for action as well as he had hoped for. In 1969, Nelson proposed a “teach-in” for the environment to be held and that idea sprung forth to the first ever Earth Day celebration.

Senator Edmund Muskie, 1972.

In the 1960s in Maine, environmental issues, such as air and water pollution,  were brought into public light and had the attention of Senator Edmund Muskie. Many Mainers worried that pollution from factories and mills were damaging ecosystems and had harmful effects on health. They called on Senator Muskie to address their concerns. In March of 1970, just weeks before the first Earth Day celebration, Senator Muskie appeared in front of a crowd to talk about the environment. He said pollution was called a “highly sexy political subject” but that, while Congress could pass laws, they would have to implemented at the local level and people would have to face the choices that required. On the Maine Memory Network, you can find the video footage from that speech, along with letters from concerned citizens regarding the environment.

Percival Baxter and Mount Katahdin, ca. 1962.

Throughout history many connected to Maine have championed the environment, from Governor Percival Baxter to Rachel Carson. Read more about Maine’s leaders and causes on our Maine History Online website. Scroll down to read a great piece about Environmental Activism.

Rachel Carson, 1952.

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