|United States Senator|
January 8, 1963 – January 3, 1981
|Preceded by||Alexander Wiley|
|Succeeded by||Bob Kasten|
|35th Governor of Wisconsin|
January 5, 1959 – January 7, 1963
Warren P. Knowles
|Preceded by||Vernon Wallace Thomson|
|Succeeded by||John Reynolds|
|Member of the Wisconsin Senate|
from the 26th district
January 3, 1949 – January 5, 1959
|Preceded by||Fred Risser|
|Succeeded by||Horace W. Wilkie|
Gaylord Anton Nelson
June 4, 1916
Clear Lake, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||July 3, 2005 (aged 89)|
Kensington, Maryland, U.S.
|Resting place||Clear Lake Cemetery, Clear Lake, Wisconsin|
Carrie Lee Dotson
|Education||San Jose State University (BA)|
University of Wisconsin–Madison (LLB)
|Awards||Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995)|
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Gaylord Anton Nelson (June 4, 1916 – July 3, 2005) was an American politician and environmentalist from Wisconsin who served as a United States senator and governor. He was a member of the Democratic Party and the founder of Earth Day, which launched a new wave of environmental activism.
Early life and education
Nelson was born in 1916 in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, the son of Mary (Bradt), a nurse, and Anton Nelson, a country doctor. He had Norwegian and Irish ancestry. He grew up and was educated in the local public schools. In 1939, he received a bachelor's in political science at what is now San Jose State University in San Jose, California. In 1942, he received an LL.B. degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison and was admitted to the bar. He practiced as a lawyer before serving in the United States Army, during which time he saw action in the Okinawa campaign during World War II.
In 1948, Nelson was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate. He remained there until 1958, when he was elected governor of Wisconsin. He served for four years as governor, in two two-year terms, before being elected to the United States Senate in 1962. He served three consecutive terms as a senator from 1963 to 1981. In 1963 he convinced President John F. Kennedy to take a national speaking tour to discuss conservation issues. Senator Nelson founded Earth Day, which began as a teach-in about environmental issues on April 22, 1970.
During his 1968 re-election campaign, Nelson was praised by Vince Lombardi, the General Manager and former coach of the Green Bay Packers, as the "nation's #1 conservationist" at a banquet in Oshkosh. Nelson's campaign turned Lombardi's banquet speech into a radio and television campaign commercial, infuriating Lombardi, the Wisconsin Republican Party, and Vince's wife, Marie, who was a staunch Republican.
Although known primarily for his environmental work, Nelson also was a leading consumer advocate, strong supporter of civil rights and civil liberties, and one of the early outspoken opponents of the Vietnam War. In 1969, Nelson was one of four senators to introduce a bill to establish the Wisconsin Islands Wilderness.
In 1970, Nelson called for Congressional hearings on the safety of combined oral contraceptive pills, which were famously called "The Nelson Pill Hearings." As a result of the hearings, side-effect disclosure in patient inserts was required for the pill – the first such disclosure for a pharmaceutical drug.
Nelson was also a noted advocate of small business. While chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, he led successful efforts to authorize the first modern White House Conference on Small Business, create the system of Small Business Development Centers at U.S. universities, and improve the way that federal agencies regulate small businesses and other small entities, the Regulatory Flexibility Act.
Life after politics
After Nelson's 1980 defeat for re-election, he became counselor for The Wilderness Society in January 1981. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in September 1995 in recognition of his environmental work.
Nelson was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1986. The Wisconsin Conservation Hall of fame is located at the Schmeeckle Reserve Visitor Center in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The visitor center is maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Nelson viewed the stabilization of the nation's population as an important aspect of environmentalism. In his words:
The bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems become ... We have to address the population issue. The United Nations, with the U.S. supporting it, took the position in Cairo in 1994 that every country was responsible for stabilizing its own population. It can be done. But in this country, it's phony to say "I'm for the environment but not for limiting immigration."
He also rejected the suggestion that economic development should take precedence over environmental protection:
The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.
In 2002, Nelson appeared on To Tell the Truth as a contestant, with his founding of Earth Day highlighted.
Death and legacy
Nelson died of cardiovascular failure at age 89 on July 3, 2005.
The Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (or Nelson Institute) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is named after him in recognition of his love for nature. In addition, the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore –comprising more than 80% of the land area of the park – was named after him in honor of his efforts to have the park created. Governor Nelson State Park near Waunakee, Wisconsin, is also named after him. The elementary school in Clear Lake, Wisconsin is named Gaylord A. Nelson Educational Center.
- "Nelson, Gaylord Anton | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
- "SJSU Distinguished Alumni". sjsu.edu. Retrieved June 7, 2014.
- University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Alumni Park opening date, first featured grads announced". May 10, 2017.
- The Wilderness Society. Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson to Receive Medal of Freedom
- Seely, Ron (July 4, 2005). "A Wisconsin giant; Founding Earth Day one of many achievements of the former governor and senator Gaylord Nelson: 1916-2005". Wisconsin State Journal. Archived from the original on July 31, 2005. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
- Maraniss, David (1999). When Pride Still Mattered. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-87290-0.
- Aukofer, Frank A. "Gaylord Nelson: Earth Day founder was a voice crying out for the wilderness". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Archived from the original on January 31, 2006. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
- Designation of Wilderness Areas: Hearings Before the Subcommittees on Public Lands and National Parks and Recreation of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 1970, page 228–229
- Seaman, Barbara (July 2005). "A Planetary Loss. Senator Nelson had more than one string to his bow". Healthy Skepticism. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- Verkuil, Paul A. (April 1982). "A critical guide to the Regulatory Flexibility Act". Duke Law Journal. 31 (2): 227.
- "Earth Day founder sees some progress". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 2001-04-22. Archived from the original on 2001-06-03. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- Nelson, Gaylord (November 2002). Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise. Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-18040-9.
- "The Nelson Legacy". The Nelson Institute. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
- "Gaylord Nelson | The Wilderness Society". Wilderness.org. 2008-10-22. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
- "Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – Gaylord Nelson Wilderness". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website http://bioguide.congress.gov.
- Christofferson, Bill. The Man from Clear Lake: Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. ISBN 0299196402
- Jones, Clayton R. "Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day: Bridging the Gap from Conservation to Environmentalism" (Senior thesis). University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 2009.
- Nelson, Gaylord, Susan Campbell and Paul R Wozniak. Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. ISBN 0299180409
- Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day: The Making of the Modern Environmental Movement – a narrative account of the origins of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson's political career
- Gaylord Nelson papers, 1954–2006 held by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Gaylord Nelson at Find a Grave
- United States Congress. "Gaylord Nelson (id: N000033)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on 2008-02-06
- Gaylord Nelson (Gamma Nu) – Former U.S. Senator – Gaylord Nelson Biography.