"Earth Day may be
the turning point in American history."
Former governor of Wisconsin (1958-62)
and U.S. Senator (1963-80), Nelson has
been chairman of the Wilderness Society
since 1981. As governor and state legislator,
Nelson was a strong supporter and innovator
in conservation programs. While in the
U.S. Senate he founded Earth Day and Earth
Week and authored or coauthored bills creating
the Environmental Education Act, the Apostle
Island National Lakeshore, and the Lower
St. Croix Wild and Scenic River.
The first Earth Day in America
came in 1970. It was a time when this country
was facing up to some of its major challenges,
and pollution of the environment was one.
Gaylord Nelson, the junior U.S. senator from Wisconsin,
led the effort to establish Earth Day and Earth Week.
They would be marked around the country with activities
in our schools and communities, raising awareness
about the need for a healthy environment.
If Gaylord Nelson had done
nothing else, that would have been plenty.
But Nelson had already established a strong
environmental track record by 1970, and
he went forward to continue his work long after
most people would have passed the torch
and taken a seat on the porch.
Born in Clear Lake, Nelson
served in the State Senate for 10 years
and was elected governor in 1958, serving
two terms. Then it was on to the U.S. Senate,
where he served from 1963-80. All along
the way, Nelson was working diligently
for the Earth and all its living creatures.
In Wisconsin, he initiated the Outdoor Recreation
Act Program in 1961. That program helped secure
more than 1 million acres of land for recreation
and preservation. He made the Forest Crop Law
permanent, and broadened its mission to address
needs of fish and wildlife, in addition to timber
Earth Day and Earth Week
are reminders of his accomplishments in
Washington, but his impact was felt in
other key areas.
He authored laws that protected America's finest
wild and scenic rivers, including the St. Croix
and Namekagon back home.
He wrote the bill that banned the pesticide
DDT and the use of phosphates in laundry detergents.
He authored or co-authored new, stronger federal
laws on air and water pollution and toxic substances
in the 1960s and 1970s.
He wrote the bill that created the Environmental
Education Act, assuring that generations of
children in America would learn the importance
of protecting the environment. After leaving
Congress, Nelson remained active in environmental
matters, serving as a counselor to the Wilderness
Politics is often described
as being shortsighted, and politicians
are accused of thinking only about the
next election. Gaylord Nelson rose above
that. His legislative legacy and leadership
on environmental matters, both in Wisconsin
and across the nation, will stand the test
of time because they have such an important
and lasting impact. Wisconsin and the nation
can be thankful for the deeds of Gaylord
• Founded Earth Day and Earth Week, 1970
• Served as governor of Wisconsin, 1958-62
• Served as U.S. senator, 1963-80
• Innovative supporter of conservation programs
• Authored bills creating Environmental Education
Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
(Publication of this fact sheet made possible
with assistance from Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin.)
For further information on
Gaylord Nelson, read his Hall
of Fame monograph.
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