On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. Massive coast-to-coast rallies occurred. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.
Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, founded Earth Day after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, served as co-chair at Nelson's request; and Denis Hayes served as national coordinator building a staff to promote events across the U.S.