During the seventeen years she worked in the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Rachel Carson learned about the problems of pesticides. Undaunted by the chemical companies' hostility and by the public's high enthusiasm for pesticides, she wrote a book called Silent Spring, which caused a major shift in public consciousness about the environment.
In the spring of 1962 Rachel Carson was still passionately
working towards the completion of her book. A title had been
found. Originally intended for the chapter on birds,
Silent Spring stuck as the book's final title.
A condensed version of Silent Spring was to be
published in the New Yorker in three parts,
starting on June 16. This publication contained about one-third
of the book's entire text. In September, Houghton Mifflin
published the book in its entirety.
Even before publication, Silent Spring caused
an uproar. Chemical manufacturers undertook a more aggressive
public relations campaign and distributed brochures reaffirming
the benefits of pesticides. The Velsicol Chemical Corportion of
Chicago wrote a letter to Houghton Mifflin, in which they
suggested halting the book's publication due to what they
identified as "inaccurate and disparaging statements" about two
of their products, chlordane and heptachlor. A government
official attacked Carson personally, saying "I thought she was a
spinster. What's she worried about genetics for?"1
Others took her writings more seriously. President Kennedy
ordered the Science Advisory Committee to study the effects of
pesticides. Congressman John V. Lindsay inserted the last
paragraphs of the first third of the New Yorker
release into the Congressional Record.
Highly successful even before its publication date--it was
bought by the Book-of-the-Month Club and had advance sales of
40,000-- Silent Spring caused a great controversy
when it finally appeared. Two major industry associations
flooded the press with articles, the theme of which was that
these chemicals were mankind's only sure defense against
starvation and disease. The chemical companies threatened to
withdraw their advertisements from magazines and newspapers
that favorably reviewed the book, gave doctors information kits
to relieve patients' fears about chemical poisoning, and
enlisted the Nutrition Foundation to make a rebuttal against
Silent Spring. Ironically, these attacks gave the
book even more publicity.
In preparing for her Women's National Book Association
speech, Carson wrote that there was already some awareness of
the problem but the facts had to be brought together. If she
had not written the book, she was sure that the ideas would
have come out anyway. But since she knew the facts, she could
not rest until she had brought them to public
Silent Spring was written to alert the public
and stir people to action against the abuse of chemical
pesticides. In the book, Carson explained what the poisons are
and how mankind has not studied their potential harm.
Concluding, Carson suggested more research on the effects of
pesticides on all life forms, and the application of alternate
methods of pest control.
It is important to realize that Rachel Carson did not object
to all use of chemical pesticides. In a special one-hour
television report broadcast on April 3, 1963, Carson said that
she did not contend that chemical insecticides must never be
used, but that we had used powerful chemicals with little
advance investigation of their effect on the environment and
Although she did not approve of any use of the long-lasting
chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides, Carson believed that
shorter-lived pesticides could be used responsibly.
Mainly due to Silent Spring, over forty bills
had been introduced to regulate pesticide use in various states
by the end of 1962.