From the treeless plains came a holiday to celebrate the tree. In 1872 J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City proposed the first Arbor Day. The State Board of Agriculture in 1874 designated Arbor Day as the second Wednesday of April.
In 1885 the legislature made Arbor Day a state holiday, observed on Morton’s birthday, April 22. By 1900 most states and many foreign nations observed Arbor Day. In his diary for April 8, 1874, Morton remarked on the celebration of Arbor Day, “an invention of mine.”
Though it may be just coincidence, the first Earth Day in 1970 was held on April 22, and Morton’s birthday continues to be the date of the annual Earth Day observances.
J. Sterling Morton’s diary (RG1013.AM, SG1, S4.F37, B24)
“Arbor Day, an invention of mine, now become a public holiday, destined to become a blessing to posterity as well to ourselves. It is devoted to tree planting & premiums are given to the largest planter by State Board of Argiculture. On the Morton place, today, Two Hundred Plums, Ash & Linden trees are set out on East Line and East Avenue, …..” (excerpt from J. Sterling Morton’s diary)