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Drexel Alumnus Donates Event Poster from the First-Ever Earth Week

April 22, 2022

On April 18, 1970, then Drexel graduate student John Spitko met members of the public at the intersection of 33rd and Chestnut Streets on Drexel University’s campus to take a ride on Philadelphia’s “Pollution Trail.”

A posterwith  information about the Philadelphia Polution Trail bus tour held on April 18, 1970The bus tour—part of the first-ever Earth Week, held in Philadelphia on April 16 – 22, 1970—took community members to the ten worst air polluters in the City of Philadelphia, including oil refineries, sewage treatment plants, and factories like NJ Zinc and the Philadelphia Coke Company plant. Mr. Spikto volunteered to be a tour guide, using his knowledge of environmental engineering and environmental impacts of industry to educate the tour guests about the basics of air pollution and what each facility was emitting into the air.  

“I was working on my MS in Environmental Engineering, and [some of my Drexel classmates] were part of the [Earth Week Committee and the Philadelphia Ecology Action Group], along with students from the University of Pennsylvania and other local universities,” John explained. “I attended a few of the larger [Earth Week] planning meetings and then signed up to be an air pollution tour guide. I also attended a few of the rallies and the main Earth Day event at Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park on April 22.”

As part of his volunteer responsibilities, John also hung posters promoting the pollution trail event across the City. He was lucky enough to keep one as a memento of his involvement in the first Earth Week. While he has moved the poster from home to home over the last 50 years, he recently decided to find a more permanent location for this beloved artifact. What better place than his alma mater’s University Archives.

“I instinctively knew that I had to find a proper home for this poster that I have hung on my walls and then rolled up and taken with me wherever I have lived,” Mr. Spitko said. “As an alum, the Drexel Archives seemed like that place. I have always had a strong connection to our environment and to our Earth. I guess I want everyone to become more connected with the impacts and consequences of their actions. My graduate thesis at Drexel was The Environmental Impacts of Surface Mining for Coal.  When one studies any subject in depth, one finds impacts and effects that are not immediately obvious. I’m so glad to see the concepts of Sustainable Development and Carbon Neutral being taken seriously. These are good things, I just hope we’re no too little, too late.”

“This is an exciting document because Drexel was present at the beginning of something big. Earth Day started in 1970, and Philadelphia was the only city that turned it into a whole Earth Week,” said Matthew Lyons, University Archivist. “It was a team of Drexel students who organized the tour advertised in this poster—a tour of the city’s biggest polluters. The poster is an important part of Drexel history, Philadelphia history, the history of the environmental movement, and it ties all three of them together like nothing else in our collection. University Archives was thrilled to accept this generous donation.”

For more information about the Drexel University Archives and the objects in the collection, visit www.library.drexel.edu/archives or contact archives@drexel.edu.