Military Wiki
Gaylord Nelson
United States Senator
from Wisconsin

In office
January 4, 1963 – January 3, 1981
Preceded by Alexander Wiley
Succeeded by Bob Kasten
35th Governor of Wisconsin

In office
January 4, 1959 – January 4, 1963
Lieutenant Philleo Nash
Warren P. Knowles
Preceded by Vernon Wallace Thomson
Succeeded by John Reynolds
Member of the Wisconsin State Senate

In office
Personal details
Born Gaylord Anton Nelson
(1916-06-04)June 4, 1916
Clear Lake, Wisconsin, U.S.
Died July 3, 2005(2005-07-03) (aged 89)
Kensington, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Carrie Dotson
Children 3
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  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. A Democrat, he was the founder of Earth Day, which launched a new wave of environmental activism.


Early life

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.[1] 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.[2] In 1942, he received an LL.B. degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison[3][4] 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.

Political career

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 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[7][9]

In 1973, Nelson was one of the three senators who opposed the nomination of Gerald Ford to be Vice President. (The other two were Thomas Eagleton and William Hathaway.)

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 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."[10]

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.[11]

In 2002, Nelson appeared on To Tell the Truth as a contestant, with his founding of Earth Day highlighted.

Fraternity membership

Nelson was an initiated member of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, having been initiated in 1972 during a trip to LaGrange, Georgia, to promote the second annual Earth Day.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14][15] Governor Nelson State Park near Waunakee, Wisconsin, is also named after him. An elementary school in Clear Lake, Wisconsin is named Gaylord A. Nelson Educational Center.


  2. "SJSU Distinguished Alumni". Retrieved 2014. 
  3. University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Alumni Park opening date, first featured grads announced". May 10, 2017.
  4. The Wilderness Society. Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson to Receive Medal of Freedom
  5. 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". Archived from the original on July 31, 2005. Retrieved April 23, 2015. 
  6. Maraniss, David (1999). When Pride Still Mattered. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-87290-0. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Aukofer, Frank A.. "Gaylord Nelson: Earth Day founder was a voice crying out for the wilderness". Archived from the original on January 31, 2006. Retrieved April 23, 2015. 
  8. Seaman, Barbara (July 2005). "A Planetary Loss. Senator Nelson had more than one string to his bow.". Healthy Skepticism. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  9. Verkuil, Paul A. (April 1982). "A critical guide to the Regulatory Flexibility Act". p. 227. 
  10. "Earth Day founder sees some progress". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 2001-04-22. Archived from the original on 2001-06-03. Retrieved 2007-03-11. 
  11. Nelson, Gaylord (November 2002). Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise. Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-18040-9. 
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-01. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  13. "The Nelson Legacy". The Nelson Institute. Retrieved September 30, 2016. 
  14. "Gaylord Nelson | The Wilderness Society". 2008-10-22. Retrieved 2010-03-20. 
  15. "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

Further reading

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
William Proxmire
Democratic nominee for Governor of Wisconsin
1958, 1960
Succeeded by
John Reynolds
Preceded by
Henry Maier
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
(Class 3)

1962, 1968, 1974, 1980
Succeeded by
Ed Garvey
Political offices
Preceded by
Vernon Wallace Thomson
Governor of Wisconsin
Succeeded by
John Reynolds
United States Senate
Preceded by
Alexander Wiley
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Wisconsin
Served alongside: William Proxmire
Succeeded by
Bob Kasten
Preceded by
Alan Bible
Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee
Succeeded by
Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

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