Arbor Day originated in Nebraska in 1872, when the State Board of Agriculture adopted J. Sterling Morton’s resolution that April 10 of that year be set aside for tree planting. The board awarded premiums for the greatest number of trees, cuttings, and seeds planted. More than a million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.
In 1874 Governor Robert W. Furnas issued the first proclamation designating Arbor Day. The day became a legal holiday in 1885 when the Legislature set aside April 22, Morton’s birthday, as Arbor Day. A decade later, the Legislature passed a resolution that Nebraska would be known as the Tree Planter’s State.
Morton’s diary entry of April 8, 1874 — Arbor Day — reflects on his role in creating the holiday and its impact:
“Arbor Day, an invention of mine, now become a public holiday, destined to become a blessing to posterity as well as to ourselves. It is devoted to tree planting & premiums are given to the largest planter by State Board of Agriculture. On the Morton place, today, Two Hundred Elms, Ash & Linden trees are set out on East Line and East Avenue.”