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Cherry Blossom History

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual commemoration of the gift in 1912 of 3,000 cherry trees by Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to Washington as a memorial of national friendship between the United States and Japan and a celebration of the continued close relationship between the people of the two countries.

In 1885, Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, upon returning to Washington from her first visit to Japan, approached the Superintendent of Public Building and Grounds with the proposal that cherry trees be planted along the soon to reclaimed Potomac waterfront. Her request fell on deaf ears. Over the next 24 years Mrs. Scidmore approached every new Superintendent with her proposal with no success.

In 1907, The Fairchilds, pleased with the success of the trees, began to promote Japanese flowering cherry trees as the ideal type of tree to plant along avenues in the Washington area. Friends of the Fairchilds also became interested and on September 26, arrangements were completed with the Chevy Chase Land Company to order 300 Oriental cherry trees for the Chevy Chase area.

In 1908, Dr. David Fairchild gave cherry saplings to boys from each District of Columbia school to plant in their schoolyard for the observance of Arbor Day. In closing his Arbor Day lecture, Dr. Fairchild for the first time expressed an appeal that the "Speedway" (the present day corridor of Independence Avenue, SW, in West Potomac Park) be transformed into a "Field of Cherries". In attendance was Eliza Scidmore, whom afterwards he referred to as a great authority on Japan.

In 1909, Mrs. Scidmore decided to try to raise the money required to purchase the cherry trees and then donate the trees to the city. As a matter of course Mrs. Scidmore sent a note to the new First Lady Helen Herron Taft outlining her new plan. First Lady Taft had once lived in Japan and was familiar with the beauty of the flowering cherry trees. Two days later the First Lady responded:

The White House, Washington.

April 7, 1909

Thank you very much for your suggestion about the cherry trees. I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees, but I thought perhaps it would be best to make an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road, as the other part (beyond the railroad bridge‚ Ed.) is still too rough to do any planting. Of course, they could not reflect in the water, but the effect would be very lovely of the long avenue. Let me know what you think about this.

Sincerely yours,

Helen H. Taft

April 8, the day after Mrs. Taft's letter of April 7, Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist famous as the discoverer of adrenaline and takadiastase, was in Washington with Mr. Midzuno, Japanese consul in New York and when told that Washington was to have Japanese cherry trees planted along the Speedway, asked whether First Lady Taft would accept a donation of an additional 2,000 trees to fill out the area. Mr. Midzuno thought it was a fine idea and suggested that the trees be given in the name of the city of Tokyo. Dr. Takamine and Mr. Midzuno met with First Lady Taft, who accepted the offer of the 2,000 trees.

April 13, Five days after First Lady Taft's request, the Superintendent of Public Building and Grounds initiated the purchase of 90 Fugnezo Cherry Trees (Prunus serrulata "Fugenzo") from Hoopes Brothers and Thomas Co., West Chester, Pa. The trees were planted along the Potomac River from the present site of the Lincoln Memorial south toward East Potomac Park. After planting it was discovered that the trees were not correctly named. The trees were determined to be the cultivar Shirofugen (Prunus serrulata "Shirofugen") and have since disappeared.

August 30, the Japanese Embassy informed the Department of State that the City of Tokyo intended to donate 2,000 cherry trees to the United States to be planted along the Potomac River.

December 10, 2,000 cherry trees arrive in Seattle from Japan.

January 6, 1910, trees arrive in Washington, DC

January 19, 1910, To everyone's dismay, an inspection team for the Department of Agriculture found the trees were infested with insects and nematodes and other diseases. To protect American growers, the department concluded that the trees must be destroyed.

January 28, 1910, consent from President Taft to burn trees. This diplomatic setback resulted in letters from the Secretary of State and representations to the Japanese Ambassador expressing deep regret of all concerned. Dr. Takamine and the Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki met the distressing news with determination and good will. Dr. Takamine again donated the costs for the trees, whose number had now increased to 3,020. The scions for these trees were taken in December 1910 from the famous collection on the bank of the Arakawa River in Adachi Ward, a suburb of Tokyo, and grafted on wild cherry root stock.

February 14, 1912. 3,020 cherry trees of 12 varieties were shipped from Yokohama on board the S.S. Awa Maru, bound for Seattle. Upon arrival, they were transferred to insulated freight cars for the shipment to Washington.

March 26, 3,020 cherry trees arrive in Washington, DC. The trees were comprised of the following varieties:

Prunus x yedoensis "Yoshino" . . . . . . . . 1,800
Prunus serrulata "Ariake". . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
"Fugenzo" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
"Fukurokuju" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
"Gyoiko" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . 20

(These were all planted on the White House Grounds)
"Ichiyo" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
"Jonoi" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
"Kwanzan" . . . . . . . . . . . . . 350
"Mikurumagaeshi" . . . . . . . . . . 20
"Shirayuki" . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
"Surugadainioi" . . . . . . . . . . 50
"Takinioi" . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140

Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,020

March 27, First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, about 125 feet south of what is now Independence Avenue, SW. The first two trees planted were Yoshino cherry trees. At the conclusion of the ceremony, First Lady Taft presented a bouquet of "American Beauty" roses to Viscountess Chinda. Washington's renowned Cherry Blossom Festival had its inception in this simple ceremony, witnessed by only a few persons. These two original trees are still standing today several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street. Located at the bases of the trees are large bronze plaques which commemorate the occasion.

In a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912. First Lady Helen Herron Taft, wife of president William Howard Taft, and Viscountess Chinida, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two cherry trees on the north bank of the tidal basin in West Potomac Park. In April, 1927 school children reenacted the initial planning in Potomac Park and eight years later, in 1935, the first "Festival" was sponsored by civic groups in the nations's capitol.

In 1913‚ 1920 Workmen continued the planting of Yoshino trees around the Tidal Basin. The cherry trees of the other 11 varieties and the remaining Yoshino trees were planted in East Potomac Park.

In Spring of 1927, the original planting of Japanese cherry trees was commemorated by a re-enactment of the event by Washington school children.

In 1934, the District of Columbia Commissioners sponsored a three-day celebration. The next year the first Cherry Blossom Festival was jointly sponsored by many civic groups. It became an annual event. In 1949, Cherry Blossom Princesses were selected from every state and territory to participate in the festival.

In 1952, cuttings from the cherry trees in the United States were sent to Japan to restore Japan's noted collection of trees on the banks of the Arakawa River in the Adachi Ward which had deteriorated during the war years. Trees in the Adachi Ward were the parent stock for the trees given to the U.S.

The first Cherry Blossom Queen was crowned in 1949 and the selection processhas evolved over the years.

On March 30, 1954 Sadao Iguchi, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States presented a 20-ton, 300-year-old Japanese Stone Lantern to the city of Washington.

In 1957, the Mikimoto Pearl Crown was donated for use at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

In 1958, the Japanese Pagoda, hewn out of rough stone, was placed on west bank of the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial and dedicated April 18, 1958. It was presented as a gift to the City of Washington, D.C., by the Mayor of Yokohama.

In 1965, a gift of another 3,800 new cherry trees was received by another First Lady interested in the beautification of Washington, Lady Bird Johnson.

Then in 1981, Japanese horticulturists came to the united states to take cuttings from the Yoshino cherry trees to replace trees destroyed in Japan when the course of a river was changed. By this circle of giving, the cherry trees have fulfilled their roles as a symbol and agent of friendship.

In 1982, approximately 800 cuttings from the original trees at the Tidal Basin were sent to Japan to help them retain the genetic characteristics of their trees.

From 1986 to 1988, a total of 676 new cherry trees were planted at a cost of $101,558 in private funds donated to the Blossoms In Our Future campaign. The National Park Service sponsored the campaign to help restore the number of trees to what they were at the time of the original gift from Japan.

In 1994, the Festival was expanded to two weeks to accommodate the many activities.

Today the National Cherry Blossom Festival is coordinated by the National Cherry Blossom Festival Inc., an umbrella organization consisting of a coalition of business, civic, and governmental organizations. More than 600,000 vistors come to Washington to see the cherry blossoms and celebrate the beginning of spring in our nation's capital.

Since the National Park Service has been keeping records of the blooming dates, the earliest blooming date as been March 15, 1990, and the latest date was marked on April 18, 1958. The average blooming date--that time when the blooms are considered to reach their peak--is April 5 for the Yoshino and April 22 for the double flowering Kwansan trees, mostly seen in East Potomac Park.

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