In the mid 1800's, New England educator Birdsey G. Northrop urged people to plant trees to beautify countryside. One of the people who heeded Northrop's advice was Julius Sterling Morton, a newspaper publisher who had moved from Detroit, Michigan, to Nebraska Territory in 1854. Morton advocated the planting of trees to enrich the soil and conserve moisture, and he set an example for his friends and neighbors by planting orchards, shade trees and wind breaks on his own farm. After Morton became a member of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, he proposed that a special day be set aside and dedicated to tree planting and increasing awareness of the importance of trees. The State of Nebraska agreed, and the first Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10, 1872, with the state government offering prizes to the communities, civic groups and individuals who planted the most trees; over a million trees were planted on that one day. Nebraska celebrated its second Arbor Day on April 10, 1884. In 1885, the Nebraska Legislature changed Arbor Day to April 22 in honor of Morton's birthday and made it an official state holiday.
Arbor Day is now celebrated in all fifty U.S. states, and in many other countries. In 1970, President Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day, and most states observe Arbor Day on the same day. Although it is primarily a ceremonial and educational holiday in most locations, Arbor Day is still a full legal holiday in Nebraska, and most state offices and schools are closed in observance; it is also still observed on April 22nd.
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This page was last updated on 01/18/2013.