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Arbor Day History
History of Arbor Day

The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. J. Sterling Morton, a pioneer and journalist, championed the idea of a “tree-planting holiday” in the Nebraska Territory. J. Sterling Morton’s love for trees came from his life in Michigan. Morton’s family lived in Detroit, and he went to public school in Monroe, later attending Albion College (Class of 1850) and the University of Michigan (Class of 1854).

It is estimated that Nebraskans planted over one million trees that first Arbor Day. In 1885, Arbor Day was named a legal holiday in Nebraska; Morton’s birthday, April 22, was selected for its permanent observance. During the 1870’s, other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day, and the tradition began in schools in 1882. Today, the most common date for state observances of Arbor Day is the last Friday in April. Several states celebrate Arbor Days at other times to coincide with the best tree-planting weather.

In 1885, the Michigan Legislature resolved “that the Governor is hereby requested to call the attention of the people of the state to the importance of planting trees for ornament and by naming a day upon which the work shall be given special attention, to be known as Arbor Day.”

Until 1965, the Upper and Lower Peninsulas had separate Arbor Days in the spring because of the difference in weather conditions for tree planting. Governor George Romney proclaimed an Arbor Week for the last week of April 1966. In his proclamation, Governor Romney broke with the traditional one-day event “Because of the increased interest in, and the importance of, the statewide Keep Michigan Beautiful Program, one or two days do not afford enough time and opportunity for a full and proper observance of Arbor Day.”

Each year, the Governor and Michigan Legislature proclaim the last week of April as Arbor Week and Arbor Day as the Friday of that week.

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