The Earth Day Collection


Belching Smokestacks

Photos of the Golden Smelter from the Golden History Museum – Click to enlarge

110 years ago today, the Colorado Transcript announced SMOKE AGAIN POURS FROM BIG STACK. The Golden Smelter was built in 1868. Its business was very on-again off-again, depending on competition, the price of metals, etc. May 12, 1910 was another in a series of restarts.

The Transcript (and America in general) just loved heavy industry at this period, and every new plant was a cause for rejoicing. Smokestacks were a symbol of progress, growth, affluence, and everything that was desirable for a city. Since this one belonged to a smelter, it also came with sulfur dioxide, heavy metals, various toxins, and miscellaneous other delights, but in the meantime….

“Superintendent James Myers had the blast put on Monday afternoon, and when the clouds of smoke belched forth from the big stack a few minutes later a new era in the prosperity of Golden…was marked.”

The Coors Smokestack

Several postcards of Coors, all with smokestacks (and therefore all photos taken between 1925 and 1970) – click to enlarge

Fifty+ Years Ago
The July 13, 1970 Golden Transcript reported that the Coors smokestack was being demolished. The 180 foot tall smokestack was built in 1925. The article explains that the stack had been used with a coal boiler. The Clean Air Act became law in 1967, and Coors had switched to gas and oil boilers, to clean up their emissions.

From the article:
All of this is part of Coors recognition for the need to control air pollution. Remember how the black smoke used to waft over the Table Mountains, down the valley towards Wheat Ridge or up the valley over Golden?

The presence (or absence) of the smokestack is one item that I use to help establish dates for pictures of Coors.

Photo showing “black smoke [wafting] over the Table Mountains” – Denver Public Library Western History Collection – click to enlarge


For a few years, Golden had a tradition of gathering for “the burning of the greens.” This was a community bonfire, where we burned our Christmas trees.

The event started small. In 1953, Calvary Church celebrated the Twelfth Night of Christmas by burning the greens they had used to decorate the church. About 60 people participated, and they combined it with a chili supper.

The next year, the Golden Ministerial Alliance got involved, as did the Chamber of Commerce. The event was moved to the area we now call Lions Park. Community members were invited to bring their Christmas trees, and the Chamber brought the ones used along Washington Avenue. The trees were burned near the pond (which is now gone), so people were invited to bring their ice skates.

By the mid-60s, the Golden Jaycees were sponsoring the event, with the Mayor and the Methodist Minister as speakers.

By 1970, we had new air pollution standards, and bonfires were illegal. That year, Golden residents were invited to bring their Christmas trees to the Foss Ranch, where they would be used for bird cover and soil conservation.

These days, the City accepts the trees, feeds them all through a chipper, and turns them into free mulch. That program is going on right now, so if you have a real tree, let the city recycle it for you!


A Brief History of Clear Creek and Golden

Originally published in July, 2019

Golden exists because of Clear Creek. During the gold rush of 1859, the Creek provided the pathway into the mountains for those prospecting for gold. Golden’s founders decided to stay here in the flatlands and sell supplies to the flood of prospectors. The presence of water–for drinking, irrigation, and waterpower–made this an obvious location for a town.

Water Quality
During the 19th and early 20th century, mining and smelting polluted Clear Creek to the point where it was undrinkable and killed crops when it was used for irrigation. The Argo Tunnel, built in 1893, allowed water to drain out of the mines of Central City and Blackhawk into Clear Creek at Idaho Springs. Golden itself had several smelters, conveniently built along Clear Creek for ease of waste disposal.

The common practice of dumping raw sewage into the Creek didn’t help water quality. Rather than pumping water from Clear Creek, Golden used groundwater and piped water from increasing remote mountain streams.

In the 1950s, the Federal government began to take steps to prohibit dumping sewage into public waterways. Golden began treating its sewage in 1956.

Clear Creek in 1997, across from Lions Park. The Colorado School of Mines Research Institute (CSMRI) was demolished shortly after this photo was taken.

In 1983, Central City, Clear Creek, and Idaho Springs were declared a Superfund site. Clean up began in 1987 and a water treatment plant for the Argo Tunnel went online in 1998.

Recreation (and Water Rights)
That same year (1998), Golden opened the Clear Creek Whitewater Park. Golden had purchased new water rights to ensure that we could keep enough water rushing through Golden to support a kayak park. Other Colorado communities challenged that use of water. For the first 140 years of Colorado’s water law, the only “valid” uses of water were agriculture, industry, and domestic. The case went to the State Supreme Court, which eventually decided that recreation was a valid use for water rights in Colorado.

In 2009, Trout Unlimited decided that the Creek had recovered sufficiently to support trout. They did a stream restoration project to improve trout habitat in a section called the Clear Creek Golden Mile.

July 4th, 2012 – Hot temperatures, shallow water, and big crowds!

Perils of Popularity
2012 was a startling year for Golden. Temperatures were exceptionally high, water flow was exceptionally low, and the Denver metro area suddenly discovered that Golden was a great place for wading, tubing, and picnicking. Hordes of people descended on Clear Creek, causing erosion of the banks, trail and road congestion, and parking problems. Residents were dismayed at suddenly becoming a regional attraction. The City responded by fencing off parts of the bank, posting rules of conduct, and hiring seasonal rangers to patrol the Creek.

This year’s 4th of July will be quite different from that same day in 2012–at least with regard to Creek usage. The mountains received a tremendous amount of snow this winter, which is now melting into the streams and rivers. Clear Creek is currently running very high, and the City and County have placed restrictions on recreational use of the stream. Kayakers with safety equipment are still permitted, but tubers, waders, and swimmers definitely are not.

Agriculture Versus Mining

Golden’s founders had a very 19th-century view of the earth–it was there to be used. In their view, it provided an endless source of riches to those who worked to extract what the earth could offer.

Elwood and Rees Easley and sons at Orchard House
from the Golden History Museum Collection – click to enlarge

In 1870, two of our biggest industries were mining and agriculture. The mining towns (Central City, Black Hawk, Idaho Springs, and Georgetown) were of interest to everyone who wanted to see the Territory grow and thrive. New mines and new technologies that improved the processing of ore were cause for celebration. Also important, though perhaps less exciting, were our farms and gardens, which were made possible by a network of ditches fed by Clear Creek.

The Argo Mill in Idaho Springs–tailings sliding into Clear Creek – Denver Public Library Western History Collection photo – click to enlarge

It wasn’t until 1880 that conflict between the two concerns arose. It was standard practice at that time to dump industrial waste into waterways, where it would be carried away by the rush of the water. As the mining industries grew, and their waste products with them, the farmers downstream found that the water from Clear Creek began poisoning their crops and soil.

In 1882, the farmers began trying to put legal pressure on the mines and mills to stop polluting Clear Creek. They had no luck. They tried again, with more emphasis and organization, in 1887. By this time, agriculture had become a more important component of our economy, but they still made no headway.

The matter became even worse in 1893, when the Argo Tunnel was built. The tunnel allowed all of the mines to drain their excess water through the tunnel to flow into Clear Creek. This increased the concentration of heavy metals in the water, and made the Creek still more toxic.

The matter rose to the surface again in 1915. By this time the farmers were beginning to organize into Granges, which allowed them to combine their voices to lobby the legislature. In 1917, the Granges initiated a “Pure Clear Creek” campaign. In 1919, they were still lobbying and proposed a bill which would require the mines and mills to stop polluting the Creek. They agitated for several years, with no notable success.

As an aside–by this time, the City of Golden was using a separate water supply, drawn from Beaver Brook, a more remote mountain stream. They were not directly affected by Clear Creek water quality.

In 1928, a new group joined the fray, lending their support to the farmers in trying to stop upstream polluters. The Izaak Walton League is a conservation group, concerned with clean water and clean soil. They were especially interested in making the water fit for recreational use, particularly fishing.

The combined efforts of the farmers and conservationists were still not effective. Mine waste continued to go into the Creek.

In 1934, Golden found itself in an embarrassing situation. Having shown appropriate shock and indignation at the industrial polluters upstream, they found themselves accused of dumping raw sewage into the Creek (which they were–as were all of the other towns along the Creek).

The Depression had set in by this time, and both the mine industry and municipalities were able to plead poverty as an excuse for not cleaning up their acts. Both groups fended off legal action for many years.

Golden was finally rescued from its situation when Coors began treating our sewage in 1953. That left us free to rejoin the people trying to make the mines clean up their decades-old messes and current practices.

The nation was becoming more ecologically-conscious in the 1960s. Colorado’s Governor Love proclaimed a “Clean Streams Week” in 1967, declaring that water pollution control is everyone’s job.

In 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin organized the first Earth Day. Students at Golden High School observed the event with a guest lecturer, an environmental film, and discussion groups about environmental issues.

Earth Day helped focus many scattered environmental movements. 1970 also saw the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the establishment of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act followed, in 1972, and the Superfund law was enacted in 1980.

These Federal laws finally did what no amount of protesting had accomplished–they cleaned up the old mines west of Golden. In 1998, Superfund paid for a water treatment plant in Idaho Springs, so that mine water was cleaned before it entered Clear Creek.

Returning to that first Earth Day at Golden High School:

One group of Golden High School students started a survey of Clear Creek and found a spot where raw sewage was being dumped into the river. They reported their findings to officials who promised to check the story out, but several days later they admitted they hadn’t been able to locate the responsible party. Our young group revisited the spot, determined to work out a solution. Someone had a bright idea. Plug up the end of the sewage line.

The homeowners at the other end of that sewage line were unaware that their sewage was not being routed to a treatment plant, but they quickly became aware that the sewage was no longer just going away. A flurry of telephone calls reached officials, which soon allowed them to track down the builder who had piped the sewage to the Creek.

Happy Earth Day!

Clear Creek: it kills the fish, but it’s fine to drink.

The March 20, 1974 Golden Transcript featured an article entitled “Tailing pollution called no health hazard.” A graduate student at the School of Mines had been studying the effluent from the Argo Tunnel in Idaho Springs. At that time it was draining 750,000 gallons of acidic mine water into Clear Creek daily. The researcher said that the water was not known to be harmful to humans drinking it; nonetheless, few fish lived in Clear Creek between Idaho Springs and Golden. The water quality was worse when the Creek was low, since that made the concentration of pollutants even higher. He remarked that the mine discharge “probably is not going to change much during our lifetime.” The article concluded that If reclamation proves too expensive or impractical, he said it would be necessary to “wait til the laws are there to force people to do it.”

Photo by Frank Hanou

Fortunately, a few years later clean water standards were enacted, the whole drainage area was declared a Superfund site, the tailings were cleaned up, and a water treatment plant was built to treat the water coming out of the Argo Tunnel. As a result, Golden now has a trout stream, kayak park, and tourist attraction instead of an industrial sewer running through town.

Health Laws and Water Quality

The March 11, 1920 Colorado Transcript included a front page article entitled, “Up-to-Date Health Laws Proposed for Golden.” In the wake of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, there was a new focus on public health measures. Golden’s City Council determined that we would have a board of health, consisting of three aldermen (as councilors were called at the time) and a physician appointed to be the City Health Officer. All physicians in town were to report contagious diseases to the Health Officer, who in turn would notify school authorities. The Health Officer would quarantine homes where such diseases were present, and the schools would make sure the kids didn’t show up in class. The Health Officer kept an eye on all epidemics in the state and reported to City Council when any were near Golden.

The original focus of the job was to contain communicable diseases, but it suffered from extreme scope creep.

Soon after the job was created, the City Health Officer also became responsible for testing the water in our reservoirs to look for signs of contamination. As automobiles became more common, more people were coming close to our mountain water supplies. In 1922, the Health Officer took legal action to prevent someone from building a gas station next to our reservoir on Lookout Mountain.

Backyard Corrals and Outhouses – click to enlarge

In 1925, he urged city council to ban those suffering with tuberculosis or other communicable diseases from camping in Golden. In 1926, he was investigating complaints about unsanitary corrals and outhouses in the city. City Council charged him with making an inventory of outhouses within the City limits and sending letters telling homeowners to get rid of them.

In 1927, he placed 100 houses under quarantine during a measles epidemic. In 1930, he ordered that all loose dogs be muzzled, as there were many rabies cases in the state. In 1946, in an effort to fight an impending polio epidemic, he worked with City Council to arrange for regular trash collection (a new concept at the time). The Health Officer also gave annual physical exams to every Golden High School student. For these many and varied duties, from 1920-1950 the City Health Officer was paid $50/year.

In the late 1940s, a Tri-County Health Association was formed. This group focused more on public policy and urging government to impose health laws. (Golden, and all other communities along Clear Creek, still sent their sewage directly into the Creek at this time.) In 1950, the Tri-County Health Association informed all cities with a population under 25,000 that they should dismiss their Public Health Officers in favor of letting Tri-County handle all health issues. Thus, Golden had its last Public Health Officer in 1950.

Early Sewers in Golden

Ceramic pipe

The City of Denver began installing a sewer system in the late 1870s. Much of ceramic pipe used for that system was manufactured in Golden, using our local clay.

Golden itself was slower to embrace the idea of a city-wide sewer system. Our early efforts were privately financed pipes that led straight to Clear Creek. Once there, the raw sewage was discharged directly into the Creek.

In 1879, Golden’s leaders were anxious to get a first class, modern hotel. Apparently one critical element of this hotel would be indoor plumbing, rather than outhouses. The Transcript described how this could be achieved:

A suitable location can now be secured on the principal street here, from which a sewer pipe to the creek can easily and cheaply be laid
Colorado Transcript, March 26, 1879

Excerpt from the 1886 Sanborn Map, showing some of our earliest sewers, discharging directly into Clear Creek. Note the Cambria Tile & Brick Works on the right side–one of the major producers of ceramic sewer pipe – click to enlarge

Mr. Staples, who owned a tailor shop and residence at Washington Avenue and 1st Street (now 11th) installed a sewer pipe from his building to the creek in 1885.

The same year, the Transcript connected to the hotel’s sewer pipe to discharge the waste water from their motor.

In 1893, the county commissioners paid $200 to install a sewer pipe from the courthouse down to meet with the hotel’s sewer. Property owners along the line also contributed to the cost, so they too could connect to the line.

West of Washington Avenue, there was a combination of buried sewer pipes and open runs.

A February 24, 1886 Transcript article describes John Nicholl’s lovely home on 14th Street and mentions that “The bath-room, lavatories, sinks, etc., as well as the yards, are drained through lines of sewer pipe leading to the street gutter in front.”

A February 27, 1895 article discusses “…the proposed sewer from the School to Clear Creek.  This improvement is very much needed as at present all the drainage is passed down through the city in the open run leading thence to the creek.”

Until 1896, the State Industrial School (now the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center – map) discharged its waste into Kinney Run, which eventually carried it to Clear Creek. Residents in the Ford Street neighborhood disliked having the open sewer run past their houses.

By the turn of the century, the need for a city-wide underground sewer system was becoming clear. To be continued….

Golden Sewers – Part 2

After 40 years of living with outhouses and open sewers, Golden residents were coming to appreciate the value of underground sewers. By 1900, we had hundreds of feet of buried sewer pipes, but they were all privately installed and owned. People who had sewer lines running past their property were often able to connect to the pipe, but most homes and businesses in Golden had no access to a sewer.

At last, town leaders began to urge the development of a wide-reaching city owned system.

All the sewers in the city thus far have been inaugurated by private enterprise and money, and we believe…that the time has arrived when Golden should begin the establishment of a complete system of sewers.
The Colorado Transcript
, February 4, 1904

In 1906, City Council hired an engineer to survey a potential sewer system. In 1908, they voted in favor of installing sewer lines on the south side of the creek. That was so successful that in 1910, they built another sewer system north of the Creek.

Backyard poultry, corrals, and outhouses – Dan Abbott collection

While the new systems were owned and maintained by the City, individual property owners were assessed the cost of running past their property and hooking them up to the system. Some property owners were reluctant to pay that assessment, and continued to rely on outhouses for many more years.

Golden continued to discharge its waste directly into Clear Creek until Coors built a sewage treatment plant in 1953.


Yesterday’s Trash

Before the Kiwanis Club created Parfet Memorial Park, that piece of ground was the town dump. When the dump was dislodged from that location, the city was forced to find somewhere else to serve in that capacity. So I began researching how Golden has dealt with its leavings over the years.

For decades, the accepted practice was to take your refuse beyond the city limits and dump or burn it there. A June 18th, 1903 article in the Colorado Transcript chided residents for using streets and alleys as common dumping grounds for old shoes and clothes, decaying vegetable and animal matter. An October 8, 1903 article added that both sides of Washington Avenue on the north side of the creek were used as a dumping ground for old bottles, trash, and dead cats.

The dump seems to have moved around over the years, and the Transcript generally didn’t specify the location, since its readers at the time would have known where “the dumping ground” was. In addition to Parfet Park, various articles implied that the dump had been located on 10th Street, on 11th Street, on 44th Street, “on the main Golden-Morrison road,” and near the water treatment plant.

Rats were a recurring problem. A 1921 article says that “people living near the city dump–especially those who keep chickens–are being plagued with rats. Some exceptionally large specimens have been trapped on 12th St.” A 1923 article reports that rats from the dump travel all over the city. In 1928, “the marshals” poisoned the rats, so citizens were advised to keep their pets away from the dump. In 1929, the city “made war” on the rats. They used poison, and “one man with a small rifle killed several dozen in the space of a few minutes on the creek bank at Eleventh Street.” One promising Golden High School student was praised for spending much of his spare time shooting rats at the city dump.

Even into the 1940s and 50s, disposing of trash by dumping it in the city streets and alleyways was a common practice. More fastidious people drove it out of the city and dumped it along country roads.

In 1948, the city instituted curbside garbage pickup. It was collected every day in the downtown section and twice weekly in residential neighborhoods (thrice weekly during the summer). The city paid a company $1200/year to provide this service. Garbage was strictly defined as food waste, because the collection was used to feed hogs.

Follow-Up on Yesterday’s Trash Talk:
Some of my readers wondered why the city would have placed the town dump in such unarguably residential areas as 11th Street or 10th Street. The theory was that people would only bring “sanitary” waste to the dump. That meant things that weren’t going to decompose, attract rats, and produce undesirable odors. For our first 100 years, almost every house, business, and institutional building would have been burning either wood or coal all winter. Every building would have had an ash pit, where the ashes and cinders from the furnace/stove were stored until they could be hauled off to the dump. The cinders, along with branches, leftover construction materials, and other reasonably “hard” things were considered a good way to create landfill.

Golden in 1884 – Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library Western History Collection. Click to enlarge…

The creek bed used to be much wider than it is now. The ground holding the Clear Creek History Park is all landfill, as is some of the land supporting City Hall. When the City wanted to move the dump to 11th Street, it’s because they wanted to extend the bank and make 11th Street wider.

The members of the council had considerable discussion regarding a suitable dumping ground. Previous to a decision made several weeks ago to use Eleventh Street, between Arapahoe and Cheyenne Streets as a dumping place, everything was piled east of Parfet Park. Very strenuous objection, however, on the part of the Eleventh Street residents against using their street as a general dump makes it necessary that a new location must be sought where ashes and perishables may be deposited. Dirt, cinders and clean debris will be permitted to be dumped on Eleventh street to widen out the street.
Colorado Transcript, October 10, 1929

Closing the Dump

The Hwy 6/Hwy 93 intersection was the approximate location of the 1950s-era City Dump. Click to enlarge.

The March 19, 1953 Colorado Transcript included the article, “City Closes Dump; County Dump May Be Used By Residents.” City officials announced this week that the city dump would be closed and covered immediately. This action has become necessary because of the proximity of the dump to the new water treatment plant which the city recently completed at a cost of $300,000. The dump was considered to be a serious hazard to the water supply as well as a considerable expense to clean the raw water reservoirs from papers, boxes, and debris blowing in from the dump. A professional pest exterminator will eliminate the rat population before the dump is covered in order that the rats will not move on into the city.

The issue was also coming to a head at that moment because the state was building a highway into Clear Creek Canyon (now Highway 6). The City anticipated a lot of tourist traffic on the new highway, and didn’t want our City dump on full display to passing traffic.

The article goes on to tell Golden residents to take their trash to the County dump instead. It was located on South Table Mountain at the north end of Quaker Street. Apparently, Golden citizens didn’t want to drive that far. In October of that same year, the Transcript printed an article entitled “Rubbish Dumping in Gulleys Must Stop.” The story reported that there was a widespread problem with people dumping their trash in gullies and drainages all over town.

Why was there so much dumping? The City had been offering curbside garbage collection since at least 1945, but “garbage” was very narrowly defined as food waste, because it was used to feed pigs. Everything else–paper, cans, etc.–was considered “trash.” Residents were on their own for that. They burned some of it in backyard trash barrels, but apparently a lot of it was pitched into the nearest convenient gully. The idea of having trash as well as garbage collected was discussed, debated, and studied for many years. Finally in the late 1960s, both the state and the county enacted a law requiring that trash be collected.

City Council crafted an appropriate ordinance requiring trash collection in Golden. Many citizens were still sharply opposed to the concept. From the December 17, 1967 Transcript: “I want the right to haul my own trash,” said Morey Gibson. “I believe this is a dictatorship when somebody tells me I can’t haul my own trash,” stormed Merle Smith. Merle Smith said that he objected to the necessity of lids on each of the containers, “They’ll be all gone in three months.” Nonetheless, the ordinance passed and Golden citizens have enjoyed curbside trash collection ever since.

A Former Dump

Garbage dump pollution, lots of plastic bags, environmental pollution landfill near the city. Nature destruction, plastic bottles rubbish and waste, unhealthy life

Stock photo – not Rooney Road

50 Years Ago
The September 29th, 1970 Golden Transcript included an article entitled “Rooney Dump Hours Change with Season.”

The article alerted residents that the dump would be open 7AM-5PM beginning October 1st. “Tickets for one dump visit or booklets for twenty (at no discount) may be purchased at either the sanitary fill entrances or the courthouse in Golden…. Another burn at the Rooney Rd. facility will be held sometime in the near future for dead tree limbs.”

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a reminder of the time before the Clean Air act, when we still disposed of branches and leaves by burning them. Second, curbside trash collection was just coming into common use at that time, and many people still made regular trips to the dump to unload their household waste.

Right-hand photo courtesy, City of Golden

So what happened to that Rooney Road dump? It was eventually filled and “capped” (covered with clay and soil), and it’s now home to the Rooney Road Sports Complex.


Prior to World War II, it was rare to see a reference to trash or litter in the newspaper. After the War, the references began to appear every few months, and by the 1970s, they came in a deluge. As I noticed this, I couldn’t help but wonder–did people suddenly become more prone to dropping trash, or did we just suddenly begin to care? The answer, of course, is both.

Colorado Transcript – May 20, 1954

There was more trash.
Many industries adopted “planned obsolescence” into their growth plans. They weren’t designing things to last forever; they expected them to be used for a few years and then replaced. As a result, within a few years we began to accumulate discarded appliances, cars, etc. At that time, most homes didn’t have regular trash pickup–they burned most of their trash and had to take unburnable things to a dump, and pay a fee. As a result, many discarded things began to accumulate in convenient ravines and along country roads.

Councilman Fritz Brennecke called attention to litter, trash, and old car bodies in the area of south Illinois Avenue towards the Industrial school on “the old Hogback road.” Police Chief Ed Dohlman said the industrial school is using an old clay pit in that general area for a dump ground and trash is probably blowing out of the dump area.
Colorado Transcript – December 19, 1963

Plastic was adopted in a big way after the war. It really is a miracle material: it’s cheap, it can be molded into any shape, and it can be made either very weak or very strong. After the War, more and more things were made of plastic and designed to be thrown away. A razor is a prime example: razors used to be permanent possessions, with blades made to be sharpened. First razor blades became disposable, and now the entire razor is intended to be discarded when the blade becomes dull.

Packaging has been a growth industry for the past hundred years. Food used to be stored in bulk and dispensed by grocers, with minimal packaging (imagine a bin of spices, a jar of penny candy, or a joint of beef behind a butcher counter). After the War, grocery stores became self-service supermarkets, and food needed to be packaged so it could sit on a shelf or in a freezer case.

A February 9, 1956 Colorado Transcript discussed the problem. They did a study of Washington Avenue on a day when the street had been swept in the morning. By 12:45PM, they found the following in the gutters:

A 1954 article written by a Golden High School student (when the high school was located across from Parfet Park) mentions the “bright and clean” park he sees when he arrives and school, then describes it after the students have eaten lunch there: “Our beautiful park has taken on the appearance of a dump. Lunch sacks, scraps of paper, and discarded apples litter the length and breadth of our private playground.”

As the piles of trash grew deeper, public consciousness of the problem grew. This was partly the result of a successful ad campaign run by the Keep America Beautiful organization, which was formed in 1953. In the 1960s, they began running television commercials showing Americans throwing trash out of car windows. Their greatest hit was the “Crying Indian” ad, released in 1971 and still considered one of the most effective Public Service Announcements of all time. We can thank the American Ad Council for creating the term “litterbug,” which is such a common word now that I can’t remember a time when it didn’t exist.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, states began introducing fines for littering.

More than $15,000 of game cash license money was used during 1968 to clean up bottles, cans and trash from fishing lakes around the state…. Would-be litterbugs might keep in mind that the fine for littering in Colorado is $100. It’s much cheaper to use a litter bag.
Colorado Transcript, January 9, 1969

Golden Rotarians preparing to pick up litter – Click to enlarge

Whether it was the ad campaign or Americans just realized on their own that they couldn’t keep littering forever, the world is a cleaner place now than it was 50 years ago. People use the downtown trash and recycling containers so assiduously that the Downtown Development Authority pays for extra trash collection on weekends.