Blazing River Ignites a Movement

As the Smithsonian Magazine wrote concerning one of our country’s major rivers: “The water was nearly always covered in oil slicks, and it bubbled like a deadly stew. Sometimes rats floated by, their corpses so bloated they were practically the size of dogs.”

The Smithsonian Magazine was referring to the Cuyahoga River which had caught fire at least a dozen times, but no one cared until the morning of June 22, 1969, when an oil slick caught fire. Despite being much smaller than previous fires, the river blaze in Cleveland 55 years ago became a symbol for the budding environmental movement.

During the 60s, Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, became very concerned about the U.S. environment. Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a Vietnam War activist, and together selected April 22nd as the date for the celebration of Earth Day. “The date for Earth Day was largely dictated by the schedules of the college students Hayes and Nelson were hoping to attract.” College campuses were thought to hold the activists needed to spawn the movement.

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970,  when an estimated 20 million people nationwide (which was about 10% of America’s population at that time) attended the inaugural events at tens of thousands of sites. These sites included elementary and secondary schools, universities, and community sites across the United States – including shutting down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue for garbage clean up. On December 2, 1970, the U.S. Congress – having witnessed firsthand the massive turnout – passed legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition to the formation of the EPA, Earth Day and its environmental movement has also influenced the passage of environmental legislation including

  • The Clean Air Act of 1970, which resulted in a major shift in the federal government’s role in air pollution control.
  • The Clean Water Act of 1972, significantly reorganizing and expanding the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948
  • The formation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1970.
  • The Endangered Species Act of 1973
  • The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) amending the Clean Water Act’s prior enforcement provisions applicable to oil spills.

The original Earth Day was supported by both Democrats and Republicans, becoming a global movement in 1990. Earth Day is now an international event recognized in over 192 countries, mobilizing more than 1 billion individuals. Each year Earth Day has a different theme, the 2024 theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” brings attention to plastic pollution.

Dixie Mechanical, and its employees, recognize the responsibilities each of us has towards our planet. In our own way, we take pride in our recycling of all scrap metal and our production, thus leaving little to no waste that would impact the earth through landfills.

To learn more about who Dixie is, visit our About page.