Environmental History

  • Yellowstone National Park

    President Ulysses Grant signs the Yellowstone National Park Act. This act set apart a tract of land in Montana and Wyoming, nationalizing it as a public park and restricting resource development on this land.
  • Columbus Delano and the Buffalo

    Secretary of the Interior, Columbus Delano, testifies before Congress on the rapidly dwindling population of buffalos in America. The buffalo population is estimated to be 7 million at this time, down from 15 million in 1865, a massive decrease.
  • Ulysses S. Grant and his Hatred for the Buffalo

    With the bison herds rapidly decreasing, several proposals were introduced to protect the bison. President Ulysses S. Grant pocket vetoed a federal bill that planned to protect wildlife and buffalo populations.
  • The American Forestry Association

    John Aston Warder founds the American Forestry Association. They focus on tree growth and the potential damage of environmental pollution. It may be the oldest US conservation group that is still in operation.
  • The US Entomological Commission

    Congress creates this commission to investigate insect damage on crops, focusing on the Rocky Mountain locust. In addition, various forms of pesticides are tested.
  • The American Humane Association

    The American Humane Association is formed. They called for the protection of the North American bison, beaver, and bald eager and sought the protection of livestock from abuse in transportation and slaughter.
  • US Geological Survey

    The US Geological Survey is formed as a bureau of the US Department of the Interior. They study the landscape of the US, its natural resources, and potential natural hazards.
  • US Department of Agriculture and Pyrethrum Seeds

    The US Department of Agriculture distributes Pyrethrum seeds, claiming they are the insecticides of the future. Most of the seeds fail. Arsenic compounds become the most popular insecticides; at the same time, frequent reports of illness and death from eating fruit sprayed with pesticides are dismissed.
  • John Muir and the Sierra Club

    In 1889, John Muir became active in calling for the preservation of Yosemite. 3 years later, Professor Henry Senger contacted Muir with the idea of forming a mountain lovers' club. Thus, on May 28, 1892, the Sierra Club was born.
  • Cleaning Up NYC

    New York City had become an absolutely filthy place with the accumulation of dirt, ashes, garbage, snow, and 2.5 million pounds of manure all over the city. The city government, calling for reform, appoints Colonel George E. Waring Jr. to clean the streets.
  • George Washington Carver at the Tuskeegee Institute

    Booker T. Washington invites Carver to work at the Tuskeegee Institute in the Department of Agriculture. There, Carver makes important advances in his research of industrial farming.
  • The Organic Act of 1897

    The Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of 1897 was signed into law by President William McKinley. It provided the nation with forest reserves and the means to protect and manage them.

    The wild buffalo population drops to fewer than forty animals from approximately 30 million in the 1800s. The rapidly dwindling bison population had failed to draw appropriate government regulation and was now on the verge of extinction.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt's Conservationism

    With the assassination of President William McKinley on September 14, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his first message to Congress, calling for a stronger stance on water and forest conservation and reclamation.
  • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle

    Sinclair's novel exposed the corruption and abuses of the American meat-packing industry. His investigative journalism called for reform and transparency in the food industries.
  • The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act

    Both acts were signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, calling for reform in the food and drug industries and establishing a federal bureau to regulate these industries.
  • The Antiquities Act of 1906

    This law gave the President of the US the authority, via executive order, to restrict the use of particular public land owned by the federal government. Theodore Roosevelt used it to set aside specific lands for parks and conservation.
  • Yosemite National Park

    Congress takes back from California Yosemite Park, which it had granted to the state in 1864. Congress proceeds to declare Yosemite as a national park, realizing the original goal of John Muir.
  • Rachel Carson is Born

    Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, is born on May 25, 1907. She became a lead figure in the environmental movement as the biologist who first published the consequences of pesticide use.
  • The Federal Insecticde Act

    The Federal Insecticide Act (FIA) is the first pesticide legislation enacted. The act mandates that pesticides be effective if they are to be sold. The act evolves into FIFRA in 1947 with the EPA being given oversight over regulation in 1972.
  • Hetch Hetchy Dam Construction and John Muir

    Congress approves the construction of the Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite national park. This serves as a major defeat for John Muir who had advocated for the preservation of Yosemite for decades.
  • Margaret Sanger and Birth Control

    In 1916, Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in the US. She was arrested for distributing information on contraception but her trial won her huge support. She is regarded as the founder of the modern birth control movement.
  • National Park Service Organic Act

    President Woodrow Wilson signs this act, creating the National Park Service, The act was designed to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. There are now 77.5 million acres of land preserved in the park system.
  • US Federal Power Act

    This act authorizes federal hydroelectric projects and begins a set of massive construction projects in North America. The Hoover Dam becomes a product of this act and leads to a growing energy boom in the country.
  • Discovery of Leaded Gasoline

    GM researchers discover leaded gasoline. They use tetraethy lead as an additive to gasoline. There were warnings and a Public Health Service inquiry but GM released the gasoline anyways with disastrous consequences.
  • "Violently Insane" and Lead Gasoline

    Five refinery workers die “violently insane” at Standard Oil refinery, making tetraethyl lead gasoline additive in grossly unsafe conditions. News surfaces that seven other workers died previously at G.M. and DuPont plants. New York and other cities and states ban leaded gasoline. In all, 17 workers died between 1924-1925
  • The Migratory Bird Conservation Act

    Also known as the Norbeck-Anderson Act. This created the United States Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) to consider and approve any areas of land and water recommended by the Secretary of the Interior for purchase by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and to fix the price or prices at which such areas may be purchased.
  • The Civilian Conservation Corps

    The Civilian Conservation Corps is formed. Millions of trees are planted, and roads, fire towers, buildings and bridges and many other public works are built. More than 2.5 million people serve in this program which was started during FDR's presidency.
  • The Dust Bowl Storms Begin

    The first of the Dust Bowl storms begin. The Dust Bowl was an enormous environmental catastrophe, caused by poor farming practices in the Midwest. These storms attributed to the severity of the Great Depression, decreasing the amount of food produced in the US.
  • The Greenhouse Effect

    Glen Thomas Trewartha coins the term "greenhouse effect" in his book An Introduction to Weather and Climate. Greenhouse effect describes the action of short wave solar energy absorbed by the earth being transformed into heat. The heat is absorbed by water vapor, CO2 and other gasses acting as an insulating blanket or a pane of glass in a greenhouse.
  • Bambi

    Walt Disney released the film Bambi, which carries a powerful message calling for conservation. The film is most notable for the strong anti-hunting themes prevalent throughout the plot.
  • The Everglades National Park

    The Everglades National Park is established. President Truman, at the park's opening, honors Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who was the author of Everglades, River of Grass.
  • Christine Stevens and the Animal Welfare Institute

    Christine Stevens founds the Animal Welfare Institute, influential in winning passage of most federal animal welfare and endangered species conservation legislation. Stevens headed AWI until her death in 2002.
  • SANE Nuclear Policy

    The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy is founded. The idea is inspred by Dr. Albert Schweitzer's "Declaration of Conscience" which described the fatal consequences created by the radiation of atomic weapons.
  • Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

    Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, published the destructive effects of pesticides such as DDT, showing the process of biomagnification in an ecosystem. It provoked an immediate and inflammatory response, with DDT banned in the US by 1970.
  • Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

    The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is formed between the US and the USSR. This treaty stops above-ground tests of nuclear weapons, recognizing the harm these weapons are causing to the environment, even when they are tested.
  • The Clean Air Act

    Congress renews the Clean Air Act of 1963 while adding ammendations. This act required regulatory controls for air pollution and was also the first major environmental law in the US to include a provision for citizen suits.
  • The National Environmental Policy Act

    The National Environmental Policy Act is signed creating the Council on Environmental Quality to give the President advice on environmental issues and review Environmental Impact Statements.
  • Earth Day Celebrations

    Although not a national event, Earth Day was celebrated in San Francisco and was organized by John McConell.
  • Nationwide Earth Day

    The first nationwide Earth Day celebration is organized by Senator Gaylord Nelson and Dennis Hayes. It creates a national political presence for environmental concerns. Millions of Americans demonstrate for air and water cleanup and preservation of nature.
  • EPA and the Federal Court

    Federal courts say EPA has authority to regulate leaded gasoline. The lead phasout begins, and by June 1979, nearly half of all US gasoline is unleaded.
  • President Carter and the US Department of Energy

    President Jimmy Carter creates the US Department of Energy. Congress also passes the Soil and Water Conservation Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
  • Ronald Reagan on Oil

    Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan says: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The U.S. Geological Survey has told me that the proven potential for oil in Alaska alone is greater than the proven reserves in Saudi Arabia. Encourages drilling in Alaska.
  • UN World Charter for Nature

    UN World Charter for Nature passes by a vote of 111 in favor to 1 against (United States). The Charter respects nature, refuses to comrpomise genetic variability, conserves all areas of the planet, and calls for optimum sustainable productivity in ecosystems affected by humanity's actions.
  • Exxon Valdez

    The Exxon Valdez oil tanker runs aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons. Exxon Valdez was headed for California from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal at Valdez, Alaska. The vessel ran aground on Bligh Reef.
  • Earth Day International

    140 nations celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day.
  • Decline of Lead in Human Blood

    Study shows that US blood-lead levels declined by 78 percent from 1978 to 1991 during leaded gasoline phase-out. Meanwhile, American Academy of Pediatrics study shows direct relationship between lead exposure and IQ deficits in children.
  • Act Now, Apologize Later

    Sierra Club president places environmentalists in four main categories. He writes that he does not care why someone cares about the environment, only that they do.
  • The Largest Mass Extinction of Species in History

    Worldwatch reports that 7 out of 10 scientists believe we are experiencing the largest mass extinction of species in history.
  • Massey Energy Dam Collapse

    In the far eastern Appalachian region of Kentucky, over 300 million gallons of thick, black coal slurry sludge explodes when a Massey Energy dam collapses near Inez, Kentucky. The spill destroyed 100 miles of streams and killed millions of fish.
  • Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton leaves the presidency after protecting 58 million acres of national forest which are protected from development and creates eight million acres of land as new national monuments.
  • EPA Rejects Petition

    The EPA rejects a petition from environmental groups that called for the regulation of carbon emissions from vehicles, stating that they did not have this authority under the Clean Air Act.
  • BP Oil Spill

    The Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexixo spills about 206 million gallons of oil. The oil is carried by the wind and the tides, destroying the fragile marine ecosystems from Florida to Louisiana.