Earth Day is “thirty-something,” and the whole world is invited!
On April 22, 1970, 20 million people across America celebrated the first Earth Day in a flurry of coast-to-coast grassroots events often credited with launching the modern American environmental movement.
1970: It was the year of the introduction of the AMC Gremlin and the Ford Pinto, of Apollo 13, and of increased plane hijackings, notably in Japan, Europe and New York. And it was the year that Ohio National Guardsmen killed four college students at Kent State University.
Newsweek, April 6, 1970. The AMC Gremlin, America's first sub-compact car.
The Grateful Dead played at the Fillmore East, music icons Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both died at age 27, and the Beatles’ Long and Winding Road was their last number one song. It was also the year of the meltdown of fuel rods in the Savannah River nuclear plant near Aiken, South Carolina, an incident that went unacknowledged for 18 years.
The ‘60s had brought a flowering of personal identity, a sense of self-empowerment, and the idea that individuals could indeed, effect change. Nearly 100,000 war protestors peacefully demonstrated at the White House, and finally, the Viet Nam war began to wind down. Heralded by the rock musical, Hair, the Aquarian Age had begun.
Earth Day Beginnings
What started as a day of national environmental recognition has evolved through the combined efforts of the U.S. government, grassroots organizations, and individuals, into a worldwide celebration honoring the Earth.
At a conference in Seattle Washington, in September, 1969, U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) announced that in the spring of 1970, there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration for the environment.
Senator Nelson (1916-2005) had been an early voice rejecting the suggestion that economic development should take precedence over environmental protection, stating that, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” When the former senator was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1995, President Clinton said, “As the father of Earth Day, (Nelson) is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event: the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, (and) the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
In order to prepare for the event he had announced, Senator Nelson hired a youthful Denis Hayes  to coordinate coast-to-coast events for the first Earth Day. Later, Time magazine would select Hayes as one of its "Heroes of the Planet," and Look magazine would name him one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century. Today, Hayes is Honorary Chair of the Earth Day Network. 
American Heritage Magazine  called the first Earth Day, “one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy …”