A GIF Look Back at the First Earth Day, 54 Years Ago Today

Published in
2 min readApr 22, 2024


54 years ago today, people across the United States, from California to New York, participated in the first Earth Day.

How did Earth Day come to be? The day was the brainchild of Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who first proposed the idea at a conference in Seattle in 1969. Nelson was inspired by anti-Vietnam War teach-ins sweeping college campuses across the country and sought to adopt the tactic for the then-nascent environmental movement.

“My primary objective in planning Earth Day was to show the political leadership of the Nation that there was broad and deep support for the environmental movement,” Nelson recalled in an essay in 1980. “I was not quite prepared for the overwhelming response that occurred on that day.”

Nelson’s proposal for a day dedicated to environmental activism was met with national support: according to Time, 20 million people participated in Earth Day events in 1970. The turnout was a boon for the environmental movement and Nelson, who called it “one of the most exciting and significant grassroots efforts in the history of this country.”

“Earth Day 1970 made it clear that we could summon the public support, the energy, and commitment to save our environment. And while the struggle is far from over, we have made substantial progress.”

The 1970 Earth Day demonstrations made waves, propelling Congress to pass the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, all within five years’ time.

The demonstrations have also been credited for pressuring then-President Richard Nixon into creating the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earth Day 1970’s legacy lives on: the day has since become a global event observed in 190+ countries.

Want a look back at what happened on that first Earth Day in 1970? Hop in our GIF time machine, here are 10 GIFs from Earth Day 1970.

📍Albuquerque, New Mexico


🗣️Stephanie Mills, “Earth Times” editor


🗣️Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie


📍Chicago, Illinois


📍California Institute of Technology


🗣️Prof. Barry Commoner


📍Chicago, Illinois


📍Stanford University


🗣️Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie



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