The Roots of the Modern
|The idea for Arbor Day came from a Nebraska newspaper editor named J. Sterling
Morton. Like most of Nebraska's citizens
in the 1860s, Morton was a homestead farmer, newly
relocated from the east. The settlers
were encouraged to settle Nebraska by the
Homestead Act of 1862. Attracted by the description of mild climate and deep top soil, families moved to the
tall grass prairies in droves. They were surprised,
however, to find the landscape so empty of the trees that
they would need for homebuilding, fuel, shade, and windbreak.
So when the
Arbor Day proposal was put forth
on the editorial
Figure 1: 1882 Celebration of Arbor Day
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
|page of the Nebraska
City News, the idea was
embraced by those missing the comfort and utility of
trees. When the first Arbor Day was
celebrated on April 10, 1872, Nebraska school children
planted more than a million trees.
to rapid settlement and industrialization of the late
19th century, Americans consumed an enormous amount of
forest resources Between 1850 and 1900,
the population of America tripled while the crop land
increased by over four times. Every person added
to the U.S. during the 19th century put another three
to four acres under the plow. During the sixty
years between 1850 and 1910, the nations farmers
cleared at an average of 13.5 square miles a day.
the rapid settlement and industrialization of the late 1800's rapidly
deforested millions of acres of trees, concern for the preservation and
conservation of resources became a hot political topic. Preservationists
like John Muir wanted the remaining forests protected from future cutting.
Conservationists like Gifford Pinchot wanted to harvest timber, but more
scientifically. By 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt realized that
Arbor Day--tree planting by school children--was something both preservationists
and conservationist could easily support. America responded whole
heartedly and laws promoting both preservation and conservation were easily
passed through congress. The celebration of Arbor Day thus became
a patriotic event. By
1902, many eastern
woodlands had been reduced to tree-stump forests. The word conservation
became a household word as families, newspaper editors and politicians
proposed the preservation and repair of dwindling natural resources.
Planting trees on Arbor Day was viewed as the patriotic duty of every
good citizen. Arbor Day thus became the symbol of the new era
of conservation, touted from the bully pulpit by the President himself.
Vicks Magazine published a letter from the
President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 extolling the importance of the endeavor
to school children.
Transcription of Vicks Magazine