Heroes for a Better World

J. Sterling Morton

American Agriculturalist, US Secretary of Agriculture
"The Founder of Arbor Day"

birthdate: April 22
Adams, Jefferson County, New York

Millions of people celebrate April 22 as Earth Day, but for more than 100 years Arbor Day was celebrated on that date. April 22 is the birthday of Julius Sterling Morton who first proposed Arbor Day as a tree-planting holiday in Nebraska in 1872. At that time, Nebraska was mostly plains and practically treeless. Awards were given to those who planted the most trees on that first Arbor Day and more than 1 million trees were planted. Years before, Julius Sterling Morton and his new wife had come West to the Nebraska Territory to stake a claim and begin their new life together. He became a successful farmer and editor of Nebraska's first newspaper. Between 1858 and 1861 he was appointed as secretary and served as acting Governor of the territory. President Grover Cleveland chose him for his cabinet as Secretary of Agriculture. In 1885, Arbor Day became a legal holiday in Nebraska, and its popularity spread across the country and around the world. In 1989, the date for Arbor Day was changed to the last Friday in April, although in many places it is observed during the area's best tree-planting seasons - January and February in the south and May in some northern places. J. Sterling Morton is a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame and his home in Nebraska City is now a state park.

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