“Arbor Day is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future.”
- J. Sterling Morton
- Morton Family Motto
The celebration of Arbor Day had its beginnings in an area not associated with trees or forests—the Great Plains. J. Sterling Morton, father of Joy, moved to Nebraska in 1854 with his wife Caroline. Nebraska, a Great Plains state, was a newly formed territory at that time.
As the territory was devoid of trees, J. Sterling endeavored to encourage tree planting in order to attract people to the area. He did that first as Editor of Nebraska City News, and then as President of the Agricultural Board. In 1872, he proposed that the state declare April 10 as Arbor Day, and his proposal was accepted. On that day in 1872, it is said that Nebraskans planted one million trees.
In 1885, Nebraska declared J. Sterling Morton's birthday, April 22, as Arbor Day and made it a legal holiday. Today, all 50 states, as well as many countries around the world, recognize Arbor Day in some manner. The day on which it is observed varies by region, depending on the best time of year to plant trees. In Illinois, Arbor Day is the last Friday of April.