Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The History of Arbor Day
Nature Bulletin No. 227-A   April 23, 1966
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Most holidays remind us of past events, but Arbor Day, set aside for the planting of trees, looks toward the future. That is truly conservation. Conservation may be defined as the wise use of all our natural resources for the permanent good of all the people . It is a way of living that looks toward the future.

The idea of Arbor Day started on January 4, 1872, when J. Sterling Morton, then a member of the Nebraska Board of Agriculture, introduced a resolution that:

"Wednesday, the tenth day of April, 1872, be and the same is hereby especially set apart and consecrated for the planting of trees in the State of Nebraska and the State Board of Agriculture hereby name it Arbor Day; and to urge upon the people of the State the vital importance of tree planting .... .

He forcefully pictured to the people living upon the treeless plains of that state, what value, beauty and comfort the planting of trees would bring. Wide publicity and support were given the plan and over a million trees were planted in Nebraska that first Arbor Day.

This man, Julius Sterling Morton, like his beloved trees, had roots set solidly in American soil. In 1855 he settled on a quarter section of land and immediately started planting trees. In a few years he had an orchard of 300 trees -- later, another one of 1000 trees -- and, as editor of the Nebraska City News, wrote frequently on the value and wisdom of tree planting, From 1858 to 1861 he was Secretary of the Territory of Nebraska and for a few months was Acting Governor. He helped organize the Nebraska State Horticultural Society in 1869, and a little later was a member, then president, of the State Board of Agriculture. In 1885, Nebraska had 700, 000 acres of planted trees and had been nicknamed "The Tree Planters State". In 1893, he became the third U. S. Secretary of Agriculture, on the cabinet of President Grover Cleveland.

Arbor Day gave impetus to the swing of public opinion, from acquiescence in forest destruction, toward forest conservation, At first it was observed only by agricultural organizations and by towns, to encourage the planting of shade and forest trees, shrubs and vines along highways and about homes and public property. Educators soon recognized its worth and in 1884 the National Education Association voiced this approval:

"Resolved, that in view of the valuable results of Arbor Day work in the six states where such a day has been observed, alike upon the school and the home, this Association recommends the general observance of Arbor Day for schools in all our states".

The dedication of one day each year to tree planting with fitting ceremonies has grown in popularity. Arbor Day is now observed in every state, the date varying with the region. About half the states have enacted laws fixing the date; in others it is set by special proclamation of the governor. A few years ago, a movement was started to establish the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day. On July 10, 1949, Illinois became the eighth state to legally adopt this date. In some states, memorial trees and groves are planted on Arbor Day as living monuments to men who died in the services of our country. The observance of Arbor Day has spread to a number of other countries and, as in Australia, is observed as a school festival. The idea goes beyond the mere planting of trees, An essential part of the program is the continued care of those trees by individuals, schools or youth organizations.

Familiarity, with trees, breeds respect.

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