Read the full story from the University of Illinois Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and the Environment.
In summer 1969, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire. Sparks from a passing train had ignited the water’s greasy, polluted surface, and a subsequent Time magazine photo spread brought the apocalyptic scene into households across America.
A few months earlier it was the Pacific drawing headlines, when an offshore well spilled 200,000 gallons of oil onto the coast of Santa Barbara. The public, still jittery from recent reports on the health hazards of car emissions and pesticides, had had enough.
On April 22, 1970 — the very first Earth Day — 20 million people rallied for sake of the environment. It was a nationwide event, part protest and part educational campaign. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign participated, too, under the organization of a newly registered student group called SECS.