As the 1960s came to an end, the rapid development of the American postwar decades had begun to take a noticeable toll on the environment, and the public began calling for action. In November 1971, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a massive photo documentary project, called DOCUMERICA, to record these changes. More than 100 photographers were hired not only to document specific environmental issues, but to capture images of everyday life, showing how we interacted with the environment and capturing the way parts of America looked at that moment in history. By 1974, more than 80,000 photographs had been produced. The National Archives has made 15,000 of these images available, and I’ve spent much of the past week combing through those to bring you these 46 glimpses of America in the early 1970s, with an eye toward our then-ailing environment.
Above: Water cooling towers of the John Amos Power Plant loom over a home located across the Kanawha River, near Poca, West Virginia, in August of 1973. (Harry Schaefer/NARA)