: Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, upon returning to Washington from her first visit to Japan, approached the U.S. Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, with the proposal that cherry trees be planted one day along the reclaimed Potomac waterfront. Her request fell on deaf ears. Over the next twenty-four years, Mrs. Scidmore approached every new superintendent, but her idea met with no success. You can read more about her fascinating life here.
: Dr. David Fairchild, plant explorer and U.S. Department of Agricultureofficial, imported seventy-five flowering cherry trees and twenty-five single-flowered weeping types from the Yokohama Nursery Company in Japan. He planted these on a hillside on his own property in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where he attempted to test their hardiness.
: 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 three hundred Oriental cherry trees for the Chevy Chase area.
: Mrs. Scidmore decided to try to raise the money required to purchase the cherry trees and then donate them to the city. As a matter of course, Mrs. Scidmore sent a note outlining her plan to the new first lady, Helen Herron Taft. Mrs. Taft had 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 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.
Helen H. Taft
: The day after Mrs. Taft's letter of April 7, Dr. Jokichi Takamine, the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline and takadiastase, was in Washington with Mr. Midzuno, Japanese consul in New York. When he was told that Washington was to have Japanese cherry trees planted along the Speedway, he asked whether Mrs. Taft would accept a donation of an additional two thousand 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. First Lady Taft agreed to accept a donation of 2,000 cherry trees.
: Five days after Mrs. Taft's request, the Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, Colonel Spencer Cosby, U.S. Army, initiated the purchase of ninety Fugenzo Cherry Trees (Prunus serrulata "Fugenzo") from Hoopes Brothers and Thomas Co., West Chester, PA.
: On January 6, the two thousand trees arrived in Washington, D.C.
: To everyone's dismay, an inspection team from the Department of Agriculture discovered that the trees were infested with insects and nematodes, and were diseased. To protect American growers, the department concluded that the trees must be destroyed.
: President William Howard Taft granted his consent to burn the trees.
: a newspaper article in the Evening Star mentions that "about a dozen" of the "buggiest trees" were saved for further study, and "planted out in the experimental plot of the bureau, and there will be an expert entomologist with a dark lantern, and a butterfly net, cyanide bottle and other lethal weapons placed on guard over the trees, to see what sort of bugs develop".
: February 14, 3,020 cherry trees from twelve 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. D.C.
: Helen Herron Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, about 125 feet south of what is now Independence Avenue, SW. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the first lady presented a bouquet of "American Beauty" roses to Viscountess Chinda. Washington's renowned National Cherry Blossom Festival grew from this simple ceremony, witnessed by just a few persons. These two original trees still stand several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial, located at the terminus of 17th Street, SW. Situated near the bases of the trees is a large bronze plaque which commemorates the occasion.
: Workmen continued planting Yoshino trees around the Tidal Basin. The cherry trees of the other eleven varieties and the remaining Yoshino trees were planted in East Potomac Park.
: So prominent were the cherry trees that a group of indignant women chained themselves together near them in a political statement against President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They sought to stop the workmen who were preparing to clear ground for the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. A compromise was reached wherein more trees would be planted along the south side of the Tidal Basin to frame the memorial.
More info on the Cherry Tree Rebellion.
: Cherry Blossom Pageant was introduced: The famed cherry tree grove along the Arakawa River near Tokyo, parent stock for Washington's first trees, had fallen into decline during World War II. Japan requested help to restore the grove in the Adachi Ward, and the National Park Service shipped budwood from descendants of those same trees back to Tokyo in an effort to restore the original site.
: March 30, Sadao Iguchi, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, presented a 300-year-old Japanese Stone Lantern to the City of Washington to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan signed by Commodore Mathew Perry at Yokohama on March 31, 1854. The lantern, made of granite, is eight feet high and weighs approximately two tons. The National Cherry Blossom Festival officially is opened by the lighting of the lantern.
: Mr. Yositaka Mikimoto, President of Mikimoto Pearls, Inc., donated the Mikimoto Pearl Crown that is used at the coronation of the National Cherry Blossom Festival Queen on the night of the Grand Ball. The crown contains more than two pounds of gold and has 1,585 pearls. This magnificent crown is ceremonial, and because of its weight the young lady, who is crowned Queen, will wear the famous piece for just a few moments. She is given a miniature crown of gold, with a pearl topping each point, to wear for the remainder of the evening and to keep thereafter as her own.
: April 18, the Japanese Pagoda, hewn out of rough stone, was placed on the southwest bank of the Tidal Basin and dedicated. It was presented as a gift to the City of Washington, D.C., by the Mayor of Yokohama to "symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854..."
: The Japanese Government made another generous gift of 3,800 Yoshino trees to another first lady devoted to the beautification of Washington, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. American-grown this time, many of these are planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Lady Bird Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan's Ambassador, reenacted the planting ceremony of 1912.
Last updated: January 14, 2020