On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. This dramatic event, which got international news coverage, is still a reminder of the need to protect the environment. But this blot on the American environment actually led to positive results, including creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and passage of major environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act in 1972.
Because of the Clean Water Act, we paid attention to how much pollution manufacturers were putting into waterways like the Cuyahoga. The legislation set limits on pollution, and gave EPA the power to fine industry for violating those limits. Sewage treatment plants were improved and new sewer lines added.
Why aren't there any photos of the 1969 fire?
Rivers catching fire was not that rare an occurrence in the United States in the 20th century. (Chicago River, IL (1899), Passaic River, NY (1918), Buffalo River, NY (1968)). Also the 1969 fire burned for less than half an hour, so no newspaper managed to get a photo before it was extinguished. There were photos of the damage to nearby structures, however.