One prominent politician, Gaylord Nelson, then Senator from Wisconsin, had been frustrated throughout the 1960s by the fact that only a "handful" of his Congressional colleagues had any interest in environmental issues. On the other hand, during his travels across the United States, he had been greatly impressed by the dedication and the expertise of the many student and citizen volunteers who were trying to solve pollution problems in their communities.
It was on one such trip, in August 1969, that Nelson came up with a strategy for bridging the gap separating grassroots activists from Congress and the general public. While en route to an environmental speech in Berkeley, California, the Senator was leafing through a copy of Ramparts magazine, when an article about anti-war teach-ins caught his eye. It occurred to him that the teach-in concept might work equally well in raising public awareness of environmental issues.
In September, in a ground-breaking speech in Seattle, Senator Nelson announced the concept of the teach-in and received coverage in Time and Newsweek and on the front page of the New York Times.
Several weeks later, at his office on Capitol Hill, he incorporated a non-profit, non-partisan organization called Environmental Teach-In, Inc. He announced that it was to be headed by a steering committee consisting of himself, Pete McCloskey, a Congressman from California, and Sidney Howe, then the President of The Conservation Foundation.
Early in December, Senator Nelson selected a 25-year old named Denis Hayes, the dynamic former President of the Stanford student body, as national coordinator. Hayes, postponing plans to enter Harvard Law School, immediately set to work making plans for the inaugural Earth Day.
Without the support and help from these two San Franciscan's the first Earth Day might have been delayed.