U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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United States Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Bulletin No. 492.


TREE-PLANTING FESTIVALS are probably as old as civilization. Sacred trees and groves, planted avenues and roadsides, shaded academic walks, and memorial trees were common long before North America was discovered. Arbor Day, as such, however, is purely American in origin and grew out of conditions peculiar to the Great Plains, a country practically treeless over much of its area but supporting a flourishing agriculture and with a soil and climate well able to nourish tree growth.

Arbor Day originated and was first observed in Nebraska in 1872 (fig. 1). The plan was conceived and the name "Arbor Day" proposed by J. Sterling Morton, then a member of the State Board of Agriculture, and later United States Secretary of Agriculture. At a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture of Nebraska, held at Lincoln, January 4, 1872, he introduced a resolution to the effect that Wednesday, the 10th day of April 1872 be especially set apart and consecrated to tree planting in the State of Nebraska and named Arbor Day.

The resolution was adopted, and prizes were offered to the county agricultural society and to the individual who should plant the greatest number of trees. Wide publicity was given to the plan, and more than a million trees were planted in Nebraska on that first Arbor Day.