The History of International Earth Day

By Ananya S. Rajan

Originally printed in the March - April 2005 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Rajan, Ananya S. "The History of International Earth Day."Quest  93.2 (MARCH - APRIL 2005):43

International Earth Day is celebrated on every vernal equinox. The concept was started in 1969 by a gentleman named John McConnell.

John McConnell was born on March 22, 1915 in Davis City, Iowa and was the son of an evangelist. His interest in religion, science, and peace resulted in him dedicating his life to bettering humanity one cause at a time.

In 1939, McConnell served as vice-president and business manager of the Nobell Research Foundation in Los Angeles, California. McConnell helped found the organization with Albert Nobell (no relation to Alfred Nobel). It was here that McConnell"s interest in ecology began. The Foundation"s laboratory designed a plastic-making plant for a manufacturer and the idea of reusing and recycling waste material to create new products drew great interest from McConnell.

Having lived through the horrors of World War II, McConnell slowly began his campaign for peace and the relief of suffering. In 1962, he directed "Meals for Millions"in San Francisco to feed thousands of Hong Kong refugees. Soon after, he campaigned for a "Minute of Peace". The campaign was successful, but made its debut on December 22, 1963 marking the end of the period of mourning for President Kennedy.

In 1968, Mr. McConnell incorporated "World Equality"to foster the idea of equality in nature and human society. After seeing the first photo from space of the Earth, McConnell designed the official Earth Flag. In 1975, the flag was flown down to the South Pole. It is now part of the United Nations ceremony of Earth Day that is held on the vernal equinox.

International Earth Day was proposed in 1969 by McConnell at a UNESCO meeting in San Francisco. The idea was "to celebrate the need to preserve and renew the threatened ecological balance upon which all life on Earth depends."

The city of San Francisco supported the idea and soon the idea was signed by the UN General Secretary U Thant. On March 21, 1970, the first official Earth Day celebration took place.

So why do we celebrate Earth Day on April 22 in the US? A senator from Wisconsin named Gaylord Nelson planned an ecological summit for April 22 in 1970. In 1969 Senator Nelson approached McConnell with the idea of making April 22 Earth Day to coincide with the beginning of the summit, but McConnell declined, wanting to keep the vernal equinox as the date. Senator Nelson proposed April 22 as Earth Day at the summit and the United States made it official.

John McConnell had his reasons for keeping the vernal equinox as International Earth Day. One is it is the first day of spring and a time of renewal. But more importantly, it also the time when day and night are equal throughout the planet. It is a time of perfect balance and a reminder to us of how we need to live, in harmony and balance.

If you would like more information about John McConnell or International Earth Day, go to  Earth Day flags can be bought at

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