The ’70s Photos That Made Us Want to Save Earth

18 Nov
The Holmes Road Incinerator burned all kinds of trash, including, photographer Marc St. Gil claims, automobile batteries and plastic. It was closed by the Houston mayor’s executive order in January 1974, two years after this photo was taken. It is now the site of a prospective brownfield 10-megawatt solar farm (.pdf).
Photo: Marc St. Gil/National Archives and Records Administration

Photographer Michael Philip Manheim documented the plight of the East Boston neighborhood of Neptune Road. It was located near Logan Airport and subject to the noise of plane after low-flying plane overhead. The noise proved too much for the residents.
“Once a vibrant neighborhood of iconic three-decker-style Boston homes, the Neptune Road of today is an industrial area occupied by self-storage warehouses, shipping companies and construction vehicle lots servicing Logan Airport,” Simmons wrote. “The noise-plagued homes and residents of the Neptune Road neighborhood of the 1970s are now gone.”
Photo: Michael Philip Manheim/National Archives and Records Administration

Jack Corn’s photos of miners in Virginia show the human skill the energy system requires, and the toll it takes, at the ground level. In this photo, we see workers preparing to go underground at the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #3 near Richlands, Virginia.
“The man at the right wears a red hat, which means he is a new miner and has worked below less than a month,” Corn’s original captions reads. “His belt also shows less wear than the others. The miner at the left carries Red Man chewing tobacco, used by many of the men because they cannot smoke in the mines.”
Photo: Jack Corn/National Archives and Records Administration

The destruction wrought by coal mining in local communities was another frequent subject of the photographers. Here, we see Mary Workman, a resident of Steubenville, Ohio. Workman holds a jar of the water that came up from her well, which she said had been poisoned by the work of the Hanna Coal Company.

Photo: Erik Calonius/National Archives and Records Administration

There was a social component to the mining life, too. Here we see some miners relaxing at the Coal City Club in Coal City, West Virginia. Photographer Corn wrote, “Note that some of them are “hunkering down” rather than sitting. This is a familiar stance to all miners who use this posture in the mine shafts, which have low ceilings.”

Photo: Jack Corn/National Archives and Records Administration

Many of the photos captured the infrastructure necessary to support the large-scale mining and power operations. Here, we see the coal cars loaded up at the rail yards in Danville, West Virginia.

Photo: Jack Corn/National Archives and Records Administration

When Documerica launched, construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline was just getting underway. Dennis Cowals headed up to Prudhoe Bay, near where the pipeline would begin, and photographed the local flora and fauna of the area. Through 2009, the pipeline has transported 16 billion barrels of oil.

Photo: Dennis Cowals/National Archives and Records Administration

Terry Eiler visited a Navajo reservation and found some ghastly environmental conditions. Here, rusting old cars are being used as a kind of makeshift dam.

Photo: Terry Eiler/National Archives and Records Administration

The project didn’t just focus on major industry; it also attempted to reach out into the rural areas of the country. Marc St. Gil’s portraits of daily life in the south central Texan town of Leakey yielded all sort of idiosyncratic characters. The town was and is 50 miles from anywhere. The man in this picture went by the name “Woodrow Wilson,” and as St. Gil noted in his caption, “He never works, but sits staring at the river from 7 a.m. until sunset.”

Photo: Marc St. Gil/National Archives and Records Administration

In a time of turning on and dropping out, there were plenty of young travelers willing to make use of the discards of middle class America. Here, we see a hobo camp in Denver filled with miscellaneous junk.

Photo: Shel Hershorn/National Archives and Records Administration

In the pollution-choked cities of the day, some Bostonians found solace in Fenway Gardens, a 5-acre plot of land cut into 425 personal gardens. The urban farm grew out of the World War II “Victory Garden” program, and remains open to this day.

Photo: Ernst Halberstadt/National Archives and Records Administration

American resourcefulness was also on full display in the photos. Here we see a gas station that’s managed from the broken down bus in the background.

Photo: Marc St. Gil/National Archives and Records Administration

Experimental builder and architect Michael Reynolds gained fame in the early ’70s by building homes out of beer cans filled with dirt. Here we see one of those “Earthships” in New Mexico. All kinds of experimental energy-conservation technologies were built in, including the sloping wall at the bottom left, which is a solar heat collector.

Photo: David Hiser/National Archives and Records Administration

The Exide Sundancer was a tiny, 8-horsepower electric car built by race-car enthusiast Bob McKee. Photographer Frank Lodge saw these test rides at an energy conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Photo: Frank Lodge/National Archives and Records Administration

This here is an actual greased-pig competition at the Tennessee Consolidated Coal Company First Annual Picnic near Chattanooga. It shows the lighter side of coal mining.

Photo: Jack Corn/National Archives and Records Administration



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