National Archives News

Earth Day

Siskiyou National Forest

Siskiyou National Forest in California; detail of a DOCUMERICA image. (National Archives ID 542848)

The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. Recognized by many as the birth of the U.S. environmental movement, the nationwide demonstration spurred a dramatic rise in public concern about environmental issues. It also secured political action that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by President Richard Nixon later that year and the passage of important environmental protection legislation including the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts throughout the 1970s. In the 50 years since its creation, Earth Day has grown into an event observed by a billion people in nearly 200 countries each year. For many, the global challenge to preserve and protect the environment continues with increasing urgency.

Explore records in the National Archives Catalog or ask a question in the History Hub.



For the DOCUMERICA Project (1971–77), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired freelance photographers to capture images relating to environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970s. The National Archives digitized part of the series "Documerica" (Local ID 412-DA). More than 15,000 of these images are available in the National Archives Catalog. You can read about the project in the National Archives exhibition “Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project” and see the items on National Archives’  DOCUMERICA image collection on Flikr.

Documerica collage of images


Featured Document Display

Earth Day 50th Anniversary (2020)

refer to caption

Featured Document: Earth Day poster by Artist Robert Rauschenberg (Records of the U.S. Information Agency)

Featured Document Display

The First National Park: Yellowstone and the Hayden Survey

refer to caption

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, ca. 1872, photo by William Henry Jackson. (Records of the U.S. Geological Survey)

Virtual Events

(recorded author talks available on YouTube)

Jeffrey H. Ryan, author of This Land Was Saved for You and Me: How Gifford Pinchot, Frederick Law Olmsted, and a Band of Foresters Rescued America’s Public Lands, discusses how America’s public lands—our city parks, national forests, and wilderness areas—came into being. 

In The Rule of Five: Makig Climate History at the Supreme Court, Richard J. Lazarus tells the gripping story of the most important environmental law case ever decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Originally streamed April 22, 2021)

In Making America's Public Lands: The Contested History of Conservation on Federal Lands, Adam Sowards synthesizes public lands history from the beginning of the republic to recent controversies. (Originally streamed April 19, 2022)


Education Resources & Lesson Plans for Teachers

Record Groups of Agencies Dealing in Environmental Affairs


Presidential Engagement on Earth Day


NARA Publications and Blogs