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The First Earth Day

The First Earth Day


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Earth Day, an event to increase public awareness of the world’s environmental problems, is celebrated in the United States for the first time on April 22, 1970. Millions of Americans, including students from thousands of colleges and universities, participated in rallies, marches and educational programs across the country.

Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a staunch environmentalist who hoped to provide unity to the grassroots environmental movement and increase ecological awareness. “The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.”

LISTEN TO HISTORY THIS WEEK PODCAST: When the Environment United Us

The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring—about the effects of pesticides—is often cited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the U.S. Sustainability, organic eating and the “back-to-the-land” movement continued to gain steam throughout the 1960s.

The first Earth Day indeed increased environmental awareness in America, and in July of 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. Earth Day also led to the the passage of the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

On April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in Earth Day celebrations. Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. (He died in 2005.)

Earth Day has been celebrated on different days by different groups internationally. The United Nations officially celebrates it on the vernal equinox, which usually occurs about March 21. Earth Day 2021—the 51st anniversary—is celebrated on April 22.

READ MORE: How the First Earth Day Was Borne From 1960s Counterculture


















Featured Document: First Earth Day Poster

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2020 — For the inaugural Earth Day 50 years ago, artist Robert Rauschenberg designed a poster built around the image of a bald eagle. Flanking the U.S. national bird, however, was a collection of photographs: endangered animals, deforestation, and land, water, and air pollution. A stark sign on what looks like an open plain says “Danger: KEEP OUT. Water contaminated.”

Working with the National Archives Still Picture team to find a document to feature for the milestone anniversary, museum curator Corinne Porter thought Rauschenberg’s eye-catching artistry would grab the public’s attention.

“It’s certainly a powerful image, and people’s feelings about environmental issues are also pretty powerful,” said Porter. “We hope that people who view the record and the exhibit online find it meaningful as we reflect on the 50 years since the first Earth Day.”

Rauschenberg, a painter and graphic artist, originally designed his iconic poster for the American Environment Foundation.

“He was a really well known artist, so that was exciting,” said Porter. “We have some notable artists who worked for or produced for the Federal Government, but I wasn’t expecting to see this.”

More than 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.


The Environmental Movement and Earth Day

In 1962, Rachel Carson, a quiet loner from a Pennsylvania farm who became a renowned biologist and nature writer, published Silent Spring, a jeremiad against the spraying of DDT and other pesticides. By blaming their use for the widespread decimation of bird and animal populations, she is credited for giving the environmental movement its robust scientific underpinnings.

Other events during the 1960s galvanized public awareness of environmental destruction. Air pollution in Los Angeles, New York City and other urban areas had reached such dangerously high levels that human health impacts were immediate and undeniable.

Population growth, the impetus for Paul Erlich's seminal 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb, was blamed for bulldozing fields and forests to create sprawling suburbs. And in what may be the most famous human-made disaster of the decade, Ohio's Cuyahoga River, which flowed through Cleveland and other industrial cities, caught fire in 1969 from all the hazardous wastes that were regularly dumped into it.


Meet ‘Mr. Earth Day,’ the Man Who Helped Organize the Annual Observance

N early 50 years after 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, more than 190 countries mark the annual day for raising awareness of environmental causes. And the stakes only grow as the years go by.

Though Earth Day has been dogged by rumors that it was founded by a murderer and as communist propaganda, the truth is much more straightforward &mdash but no less fascinating. TIME spoke to Denis Hayes, a real organizer of the first Earth Day, dubbed “Mr. Earth Day” by the magazine in 1999. Hayes is now the president of the Bullitt Foundation, which doles out grants to environmental efforts.

Here, he tells the true story of founding of Earth Day, its proudest accomplishments and the work that still needs to be done.

TIME: Where did the idea for the first Earth Day come from?

HAYES: A number of issues basically all came to a head by the late 󈨀s, starting in 1962, with Rachel Carson publishing Silent Spring, about the dangers of pesticides. In 1969, an oil spill in the elite community of Santa Barbara, Calif., brought it home to people in a terribly visual way &mdash they saw animals covered in goo, people trying to get it off, and you watched them die on camera. Then we had the fire on the Cuyahoga River the juxtaposition with water, which puts out fire, made a splash. Then interstate highways were being built. That’s when people who didn&rsquot self-identify as conservationists were out there trying to protect their neighborhoods from horrible air pollution. The stuff coming out of tailpipes was all from leaded gasoline, poisoning their children. At the same time that people were trying to talk about organic produce and the impact of pesticides on the foods that people were eating, those pesticides were being sprayed onto the backs of farm workers, so the Chicano movement saw the environmental issues as a way to mobilize public support for their objectives.

What we did was take all of those myriad strands, including wildlife protection issues, and wove them all together. It sounds strange today, but back then, the folks involved with those various causes didn’t think of themselves as having anything in common with one another. No one was asking that question at the end of the 1970s.

How was the first Earth Day organized?

Senator [Gaylord] Nelson reached out to me to build his staff and organize it. I was the most senior of the paid staff and I was 25 years old. Youthful vitality and passion forms the engine of these things.

One of the secrets of Earth Day is that the head of the United Automobile Workers union gave us a budget for an 800 number so we could communicate directly with organizers. Walter Philip Reuther [the head of the UAW] was a genuinely progressive guy who cared about workplace conditions and supported public transit because his workers were making the buses for GM. He was horrified by the pollution coming out of the tailpipes of cars. He supported legislation like the Clean Air Act to protect the industry from people refusing to buy these cars. We were operating on a shoestring budget, so the ability to make free phone calls made it possible for us to be in instant communication with people in the biggest cities.

Gaylord thought something similar to the youth-dominated anti-war movement could be done in the environmental movement, so I went out and hired a number of superb, experienced organizers who had been in anti-war, Hispanic and civil rights movements. But there was almost no interest in our cause on college campuses because we had a war going on. So I looked back at the mail to the Senator’s office, and it was overwhelmingly from relatively young women, mostly college educated, with one or two kids in a single-wage-earner family, with time on their hands, who had gotten frustrated by not being involved in the social tumult of the era and who were deeply affected by environmental threats to their children. They formed a real nexus we organized around. Once the thing got visibility, and it became clear this was a vehicle for change, then the students climbed on board afterwards.

Why is Earth Day on April 22?

[The rationale] was straight forward. This whole thing was envisioned by Senator Gaylord Nelson as a campus teach-in, so it was all about making sure this would be attractive enough to the largest number of college students. He chose the date before he hired me. He came from Wisconsin, which has cold winters, and he wanted to find a date late enough in the year that a teach-in wouldn’t be snowed in, but early enough that college students wouldn’t be cramming for final exams. And he wanted it to be in the middle of the week so people wouldn’t be away on weekend trips. So, he chose a Wednesday near the end of April, and that Wednesday happened to be April 22. Wednesday, candidly, is a terrible day for something other than an environmental teach-in. I live in Seattle nine out of 10 times there’s a torrential rainstorm at that time of year. It’s a terrible day for organizing stuff outside. After Earth Day was such a spectacular success, it started appearing on calendars. There’s no way to change the date. I&rsquove had people beg me to declare it&rsquos the spring equinox or summer solstice, but we&rsquore stuck with it.

How did Earth Day get its name?

Madison Avenue. A progressive advertising guy stopped by our office asking, ‘Anything I can do to help?’ I said, well, in brand terms, I think this teach-in thing isn’t going anyplace, and it’s not relevant to the folks who are most responsive to environmental issues. Why don’t you think of ways for us to re-brand it? A couple of weeks later he comes back with some print-outs on newsprint of ads with new names. He suggested names like Ecology Day, E-Day, Environment Day, Earth Day and Green Day. We all sat around with pizza and beer one night and tried to figure out which one would resonate, and Earth Day just sounded right. Fortuitously, Earth Day turned out to be something that translated beautifully in every language.

What was the role in Earth Day’s founding of Ira Einhorn, who was convicted of murder in 2002?

I thought that idea had been long buried. He was onstage as an announcer of the Philadelphia Earth Day &mdash a marginal character in one Earth Day in one city. There&rsquos no way you could think of him as the founder, even of the Earth Day in Philadelphia. If you asked me to name 50 people really crucial to that organizing of that first Earth Day, he certainly wouldn&rsquot be on that list.

Holly [Maddux, of whose murder Einhorn was convicted] was a beautiful, wonderful, gracious person.


HistoryLink.org

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, a nationwide program to spend one day considering issues of environmental protection, is observed in Seattle with teach-ins at the University of Washington and at the Seattle Center.

Senator Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983) addressed some 500 students from the University of Washington and Garfield High School, but was heckled by anti-Vietnam War protesters. He told the group, "You and I know we can't solve this problem [the rape of the earth] with slogans . by trying to shout someone down" (Seattle Post Intelligencer). Ironically, Sen. Jackson sponsored the original National Environmental Policy Act, which mandated environmental impact statements and gave activists one of their most powerful tools.

A noon rally at Westlake Mall drew only 50 or so participants, but later that evening, some 3,000 persons crowded together at Seattle Center to look at exhibit booths, view films, listen to speeches and panel discussions, and to collect signatures and money. Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman (b. 1935) challenged the audience to go to the next demonstration in buses instead of in private cars, to fight pollution.

Earth Day was the brainchild of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D. Wisc.), and coordinated from Washington D.C. by Denis Hayes (b. 1945), who now directs Seattle's Bullitt Foundation. Observing the success of anti-war teach-ins, they proposed a day of teach-ins on college campuses to raise awareness of environmental issues. The plan spread until an estimated 10 million school children took part as well as college and university students. Congress adjourned for the day. Earth Day continues to be observed each year on April 22.

Earth Day booth, Seattle, April 22, 1970

Photo by Tom Barlet, Courtesy MOHAI (1986.5.52123.1)

Earth poses for one of its first photographs from space, ca. 1970

Earthday rally at Westlake Mall, 1970

Sources:

The Seattle Times, April 23, 1970, p. A-2 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 23, 1970, B, 2 Marc Mowrey and Tim Redmond, Not in My Backyard, (New York: William Morrow, 1993), 30.


The First Earth Day: A Brief History

By Ron Cassie | April 22, 2015, 11:04 am

Witnessing a massive, 3-million gallon, oil tanker spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, then-Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson found inspiration.

In the book he later wrote, Beyond Earth Day, Nelson says he got the idea to launch the first “Earth Day” while on an environmental tour out west that summer when teach-ins against the Vietnam War were gaining popularity.

“Why not organize a huge, grassroots protest about what’s happening to our environment?” Nelson recalled thinking. “A national teach-in on the environment” for the national media and elected officials. “The environmental deterioration was all around us, and everyone seemed to notice except the political establishment,” Nelson wrote.

Other disturbing images along with the Santa Barbara spill, of urban smog, of oil, grease, and trash fires on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, of a dying Lake Erie, of the pesticides killing backyard birds, had also come to the country’s attention, and Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, had somewhat set the stage for action. Ultimately, the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, attracted some 20 million people—1 out of 10 of all Americans—to demonstrations, rallies, lectures and marches across the country. In a feat that would seem impossible in these more partisan times, Nelson had convinced Rep. Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican, to serve as co-chair.

Nelson later said that the April 22 date was chosen because it fell between midterm and final exams on college campuses—and also before the summer break for primary and high schools.

More than 1,500 colleges and universities, 10,000 grade schools and high schools, and 2,000 community groups joined in, organizing events. Two of Nelson’s friends from the labor movement, United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther and American Federation of Labor president George Meany, in a fairly bold moves at the time, kicked in with donations.

Eventually, the rallies lead to passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

In 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries. Today, more than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world, according to the Earth Day Network, an environmental group founded by some of the original Earth Day organizers.

It’s almost too funny to believe, in hindsight, but the date of the event caught the attention of the John Birch Society, which alleged the event was a poor attempt to conceal what the rallies really were: a communist plot to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birthday.

But after the first celebration in 1970, The New York Times reported, “Conservatives were for it. Liberals were for it. Democrats, Republicans and independents were for it. So were the ins, the outs, the executive and legislative branches of government.”

Nelson, who passed away in 2005, said he believed the support of these groups would be critical to any successful demonstration on behalf of the environment. He recalled launching the whole show in 1970 with just $185,000

“It’s hard to know when you stand on the brink of incredible change,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org, recently wrote. “But as today’s climate crisis threatens to spin out of control, Earth Day should give us hope. When the right conditions arise, we can still come together to do extraordinary things.”


The real history of Earth Day and story behind the global eco-celebration

On April 22, 1970, 20 million people across the globe celebrated the very first Earth Day. The idea was sparked by the power of the anti-war protests of the 1960s, and events that brought the issue of the environment and its vulnerability to pollution center stage.

"You know, back then we didn't have an internet, we didn't have email, we didn't have social media, we didn't have cellphones," said Denis Hayes, the organizer of that first celebration.

"As the 1960s progressed a number of environmental issues popped up," he continued, "an oil spill in Santa Barbara, the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, Rachel Carson's enormous visibility for Silent Spring, efforts to save the whales and freeways cutting through dynamic inner-city areas."

As these events brought environmental degradation into focus for the United States, then-Wisconsin Sen. Gaylor Nelson was among the first leaders to spearhead the movement.

"He thought something like [the anti-war protests] could be done around the environment and proposed a national environmental teach-in," Hayes recalled.

Hayes first heard about the senator's efforts through seeing a front-page article on The New York Times in 1969. He flew from Harvard, where he was a law student, to meet with Nelson. By the end of their meeting, Hayes was prepared to organize a movement in New England starting with college campuses.

A few days later, he got a call from Nelson's chief of staff to drop in and organize the day on a national level. He pivoted away from targeting only college students to community organizing, led by locals across the country.

"Organizing something when long-distance phone calls were expensive, when there was no internet, we had to run things off of a mimeograph machine," Hayes said.

The strategy was to get each city involved and motivated by specific issues facing their regions, and to have their protests unite together on a single day for the planet.

"We had people choose issues that were relevant in their communities, and had this broadly distributed event where what the people did in Santa Barbara was rather unlike what the people did in Chicago, which in turn was different than what the people did in Baltimore," Hayes said.

Using newspapers, magazines and mailers to spread the word, an estimated 20 million people participated in the first Earth Day.

After the success of the first Earth Day, Hayes shifted his attention to the upcoming congressional elections in November 1970, targeting a "dirty dozen" of incumbent congressmen with poor environmental records who had won their last races by a slim margin.

"So, with a very small budget of $50,000 to take on 12 incumbents, we defeated seven of the 12, clearly more than the margin of victory and each of those races was an environmental issue," Hayes said.

In the years after the first Earth Day, the environmental movement was effectively unstoppable. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970, and the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act soon followed.

By 1990, there were Earth Day events in 144 countries.

"Earth Day is clearly the largest, secular, nonreligious holiday on the planet," Hayes said.

"We're facing a number of really important global issues now -- climate change was already an issue in our agenda, the acidification of the oceans, the collapse of marine fisheries, migratory endangered species and so forth, things that no one country can solve by itself. So we need to take it international," he said.

Today, there is still momentum behind Earth Day to pass climate change legislation and act on behalf of the environment. In 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by more than 120 countries on Earth Day.

Although the 50th anniversary of Earth Day was largely canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020, more than 100 million people in 192 countries honored Earth Day virtually.

This year, President Joe Biden is hosting a digital Climate Leaders Summit on Earth Day. Hayes and other environmentalists are eager to continue demanding progress.

"Earth Day has always been an event of the people" Hayes said." "It can't be top down. You can think of it as like a structure on which we come and hang our ornaments on, like a Christmas tree. Whenever it comes along, Earth Day can play a role in uniting these causes for the environment."


History

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

– Gaylord Nelson, Founder, Earth Day
The entire cast of the hit Broadway musical “Hair” performed songs such as “The Age of Aquarius” and “Sulfur Dioxide” on April 21st, 1970, the eve of Earth Day, for an audience of about 20,000 in the large public mall across from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The native American Indian rock band, “Red Bone” also performed both days. The overflow crowd at the event not only filled the mall, itself, they can also be seen in the photo above on the roof of the surrounding Mall structure, having climbed atop it to get a better view of the performers and speakers, who included Ralph Nader, Alan Watts and U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Hugh Scott.

Organizing the first Earth Day:

“We honor Senator Nelson for his vision in calling for a National Environmental Teach-in in 1970. He empowered us to create Earth Day activities of our own making and design—in our case to create a wide-ranging and diverse Earth Week. Encouraging thousands of groups across America to implement their own visions of Earth Day was a stroke of genius. We just ran with it.”

– Edward W. Furia, Project Director, Earth Week 1970, Philadelphia

History of Earth Week

Motivated by national press coverage of a speech that U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson gave in the fall of 1969 in Seattle—in which he called for a national “environmental teach-in” to call attention to environmental issues—a group of University of Pennsylvania Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning students decided in early 1970 to organize not just an Earth Day, but an entire Earth Week of activities.

The group called themselves the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia. Austan Librach, a regional planning student, assumed the role of Chairman. Realizing that the ambitious Earth Week program would require a full time director and not wishing to drop out of graduate school themselves to manage it, the Committee hired Edward W. Furia, who had just received his City Planning and Law Degrees from Penn, to be Project Director. Within a few weeks the core group from Penn was joined in 1970 by students from other area colleges, as well as from other community, church and business groups which, working together, organized scores of educational activities, scientific symposia and major mass media events in the Delaware Valley Region in and around Philadelphia.

This diverse Earth Week Committee of 33 members settled on a common objective—to raise public awareness of environmental problems and their potential solutions. They apparently succeeded—Earth Week 1970 is still remembered in Philadelphia as one of the most successful public activities, if not the most successful such activity, in the city’s history.

Earth Week in Philadelphia was noticed not just by the local and regional media of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Wilmingrton. It also attracted major national news coverage. Thanks to extensive national prime time network TV news coverage by CBS News with Walter Cronkite—much of which is excerpted here—the NBC Today Show with Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters, and live national TV overage on PBS, Earth Week in Philadelphia in 1970 succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its organizers.

The entire cast of the hit Broadway musical “Hair” performing “The Age of Aquarius” on April 21st, 1970, the eve of Earth Day, for an audience of about 20,000 in the large public mall across from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Ralph Nader addressing the crowd of about 20,000 in the large public mall across from Independence Hall in Philadelphia on April 21st, 1970, the eve of Earth Day. Alan Watts speaking to the crowd on Indepedence Mall.

Use of Photos

All photos provided herein © 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia. However, the public is hereby granted free use of the images under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.


"A Future Worth Living?"

April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in New York City and nationwide. Right now, when people who are able to practice social distancing are mostly staying inside, it can be strange to think of 100,000 New Yorkers marching and picnicking on Fifth Avenue to celebrate the environment. Yet at a moment when questions about the role of government, mobilizing communities, and the future of our planet have come to the fore, it is well worth returning to the first Earth Day.

Earth Day was a collaboration between government and citizens. Proposed in 1969 by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day events were organized nationally by a handful of young activists and local volunteers. New York Mayor John V. Lindsay, who had created the nation’s first municipal Environmental Protection Administration in New York in 1968, closed Fifth Avenue to cars and delivered an impassioned speech. Some viewed the festivities as bad for business or a distraction from other issues. Yet, ultimately, support for Earth Day exceeded expectations and helped grow the environmental movement. By the end of 1970, the Nixon administration had established the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air Act.

Earth Day united various constituencies and agenda—from elementary school anti-litter campaigns and college campus “teach-ins” to mothers who sought cleaner air, protestors against pesticides, and proponents of population control—under the banner of “a future worth living.” Because the first Earth Day fell on a school day, whole classes of students planted flowers, swept public spaces, recycled, and protested pollution. The day also engaged New York’s cultural producers: prominent ad man Julian Koenig came up with the name “Earth Day” (because it rhymed with birthday), while artists and designers such as Robert Rauschenberg and Milton Glaser created memorable graphics.

Environmental justice gained momentum in New York over the following decades. Activists increasingly emphasized “environmental racism,” or how toxins and lack of green spaces in poorer neighborhoods disproportionately affected communities of color. In the early 1970s groups such as the Young Lords decried high levels of lead paint and tuberculosis in their communities, while by the late 1980s groups such as El Puente and WE ACT formed to oppose environmental hazards like sewage plants and other pollutants that contributed to health disparities, including high rates of asthma. More recently, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 spurred many New Yorkers to confront climate change. In September 2014, over 300,000 people joined the People’s Climate March in Manhattan, and in September 2019, the Climate Strike in New York City involved tens of thousands of people and garnered international attention.

Many observers have invoked the threat of climate change and pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have pointed to falling pollution levels in cities, as certain industries are on hold and transportation has slowed. Others emphasize that those who already suffer disproportionately from air pollution—low-income communities of color who are also more likely to be working in healthcare, food, and other essential industries—are at greater risk from COVID-19. Both have suggested that this pandemic is practice for addressing climate change, forcing whole cities and nations to make drastic changes and to think big about how to help the most marginalized and vulnerable. Speaking during the first Earth Day in 1970, Mayor Lindsay noted that “the business of pollution is the twin brother of the business of poverty and despair.” As we face the challenges of these uncertain times, we can look to environmental justice advocates who have long argued that people and the planet are inextricably intertwined, and the health of one rests on the health of the other.

Visit the Activist New York exhibition online and the accompanying lesson plan for teachers to learn more about the history of Earth Day and explore other activist histories in New York City from the 1600s to the present.


In the Beginning

A series of critical environmental issues helped birth the modern environmental movement. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring published in 1962. It brought to light the dangerous use of a pesticide called DDT that was polluting rivers and destroying the eggs of birds of prey like bald eagles.

When the modern environmental movement was at its genesis, pollution was in plain sight. White birds turned black from soot. Smog was thick. Recycling was nascent.

Then, in 1969, a large oil spill struck the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It moved then-Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin to put Earth Day on the national stage. More than 20 million people turned out.

It spurred a movement that pushed then-President Nixon to create the Environmental Protection Agency. In the 48 years since the first Earth Day, there have been more than 48 major environmental wins. Protections have been put in place on everything from clean water to endangered species.

The EPA also works to protect human health. For example, lead and asbestos, once common in homes and offices, have been largely phased out of many common products.


This Day In History- The First “Earth Day,” Was Held

Today is 1516, the German Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot), went into forceacross all of Bavaria by Wilhelm IV, Duke of Bavaria, stating beer should be brewed from only three ingredients – water, malt and hops

Today in 1635 the oldest US public school – the Boston Latin School –was founded.

Today in 1900,the word "hillbilly"was first used in print in an article in the “New York Journal.”It was spelled "Hill-Billie.” This person was described as a "free and untrampled white citizen of Alabama who lived in the hills." The article continued that "he has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him."

Today in 1940, a dance hall fire killed more than 200 in Natchez, Mississippi. At the time, it was the second deadliest building fire in the history of the nation. The windows had been boarded up to prevent outsiders from viewing or listening to the music, and as a result the crowd was trapped. The owners of the Rhythm Club (also called the Natchez Dance Hall) had boarded up the windows to prevent outsiders from enjoying the music. And while reports about what started the blaze vary, what’s agreed is that the club was packed far beyond capacity and hundreds struggled to get out after the blaze began.

Today in 1945, U.S. Army soldiers liberated the Flossenbuerg Concentration camp.

Today in 1954,Hank Aaron hit the first of his record 755 major league home runs, leading his team, the Milwaukee Braves, to a 7 to 5 win against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Today in 1969,Sirhan Sirhan was formally sentenced to death for the assassination of N.Y. Senator Robert Kennedy. Three years later, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He remains incarcerated.

Today in 1970, the first “Earth Day,” – a nationwide observance to promote awareness and activism concerning environmental issues –was held.

Today in 1984,the AIDS-virus was first identified –and a diagnostic blood test was developed.

Today in 1985,Coca-Cola announced it was changing the almost century-old secret formula for Coke. Later, public outcry forced the company to resume sales of the original product.

Today in 1988,Kanellos Kanelopoulosset three world records for human- powered flight when he stayed in the air for 74-miles and four-hoursin his pedal-powered contraption, “the Daedalus.”

Today in 1988,a US federal law took effect that banned smoking on airline flights that were under two hours.

Today in 1989,Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last regular season game in the NBA.

Today in 1992,McDonald's opened its first fast-food restaurant in the Chinese capital of Beijing.

Today in 1996,a Bronx civil-court jury ordered Bernhard Goetz to pay $43-million to Darrell Cabey, one of four young men he'd shot on a subway car in 1984. While he’d been acquitted of murder in the initial shooting – which he said was in self-defense – it was the second shot the one he gave Cabey, which sealed the $43-million decision. As Cabey laid there bleeding from the first shot, Goetz said, "You don't look so bad, here's another."

Today in 1997,an infertility doctor in California announced that a 63-year-old woman had given birth in late 1996. The child was from a donor egg. The woman was the oldest known woman to give birth at the time. The record held until December 29, 2006 - when Maria del Carmen Bousada Lara of Spain broke it. At the age of 66, she gave birth by caesarean section to twin boys. She had apparently lied to doctors saying she was 55.

Today in 1997, golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, whowas again apologizing for racial comments about Masters winner Tiger Woods, withdrew from the GreaterGreensboro Chrysler Classic.

Today in 1998,James Earl Ray died in prison at the age of 70. While he had confessed to assassinating the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, he recanted in his later years. Dr. King’s family has said that they believe him.

Today in 2005,the ‘recently created’ video-sharing website, YouTube,uploaded its first clip, “Me at the Zoo.” In it, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim is seen standing in front of an elephant enclosure at the San Diego Zoo.

Today in 2008,the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that police had the power to conduct searches and seize evidence, even when done during an arrest that turned out to have violated state law.

Today in 2013,a1% flash crash hit the stock market after a news agency was hacked and claimed injury to President Obama. Once it was revealed as fake, the market quickly recovered.