Today in History: May 4
On May 4, 1894, Bird Day was first observed at the initiative of Charles Almanzo Babcock, superintendent of schools in Oil City, Pennsylvania. By 1910, Bird Day was widely celebrated, often in conjunction with Arbor Day. Statewide observances of the two holidays inculcated conservation training and awareness in a broad spectrum of the public, especially school children.
In 1901, Babcock published Bird Day: How To Prepare for It. The book included a history of Bird Day, suggestions for its observance based on contemporary school practices, and informative material stressing the importance of bird protection. It also offered guidance on how to integrate bird conservation education into the school curriculum.
Babcock suggested that as part of school programs for Bird Day, children should recite “bird facts and proverbs” such as the following:
Birds flock together in hard times.
A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand.
The American robin is not the same bird as the English.
The bluebird and robin may be harbingers of spring, but the swallow is the harbinger of summer.
The dandelion tells me to look for the swallow; the dog-toothed violet when to expect the wood thrush. . . .
A loon was caught, by a set line for fishing, sixty-five feet below the surface of a lake in New York, having dived to that depth for a fish.
The wood pewee, like its relative, the phoebe, feeds largely on the family of flies to which the house fly belongs. . . .
Seventy-five per cent of the food of the downy woodpecker is insects.
The cow blackbird lays its eggs in other birds' nests, one in a nest. What happens afterwards?
Charles Almanzo Babcock, Bird Day: How To Prepare for It, pages 50-51.
The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920
Bird Day reflected the early American conservation movement's particular concern with birds, both as vivid examples of the natural world requiring protection and as objects of economic, aesthetic, moral, and sentimental interest to people, including children. The era's extensive literature on birds is suggested by the lengthy list of titles on popular ornithology in the Library of Congress.
For example, in 1897, pioneering ornithologists Mabel Osgood Wright and Elliott Coues and artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes collaborated on Citizen Bird. Written in an entertaining and fanciful style and dedicated to "All Boys and Girls Who Love Birds and Wish to Protect Them," the popular classic encourages the love of birds and respect for their place in the natural cycle:
Bluebirds have a call-note and a sweet warbling song. . . . He is true blue, which is as rare a color among birds as it is among flowers. He is the banner-bearer of Birdland also, and loyally floats the tricolor from our trees and telegraph wires; for, besides being blue, is he not also red and white?
As a Citizen the Bluebird is in every way a model. He works with the Ground Gleaners in searching the grass and low bushes for grasshoppers and crickets; he searches the trees for caterpillars in company with the Tree Trappers; and in eating blueberries, cranberries, wild grapes, and other fruits he works with the Seed Sowers also. So who would not welcome this bird, who pays his rent and taxes in so cheerful a manner, and thanks you with a song into the bargain?
Mabel Osgood Wright and Elliott Coues, Citizen Bird, page 90.
The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920
When the Mocking Birds Are Singing in the Wildwood,
H. B. Blanke, music, Arthur J. Lamb, words, 1906.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920
- To learn more about the history of Bird Day and Arbor Day and their roles in the The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920, see Arbor and Bird Day Observance, c.1872-1920: Additional Resources in the Library of Congress.
- See more beautiful bird illustrations by the great bird painter Louis Agassiz Fuertes in The Harriman Alaska Expedition: Chronicles and Souvenirs (1899), in The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Be sure to click on the links for “Higher Quality Image JPEG” to get the best views of Fuertes’s art.
- Discover other important dates in the history of conservation. View the special presentation Documentary Chronology of Selected Events in the Development of the American Conservation Movement, 1847-1920.
- Read observations about bird life by naturalists and find Acts of Congress related to the protection of birds. Search on bird in The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.
- From the Collection Connections section of the Teachers Page select the collection The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. There you will find ideas for using that collection to teach and to learn more.
- Search on the keyword bird in First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820 to see ornithological biographies by Alexander Wilson and by John James Audubon.
- View photographs of birds. Search on bird in Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959.
- Also, be sure to see the Today in History feature on artist and naturalist John James Audubon, famous for his drawings and paintings (external link) of North American birds.
On May 4, 1626, Dutch colonist Peter Minuit arrived on the wooded island of Manhattan in present-day New York. Hired by the Dutch West India Company to oversee its trading and colonizing activities in the Hudson River region, Minuit is famous for purchasing Manhattan from resident Algonquin Indians for the equivalent of $24. The transaction was a mere formality, however, as the Dutch had already established the town of New Amsterdam at the southern end of the island.
Under the direction of Minuit, New Amsterdam became the principal settlement of the Dutch West India Company's New Netherland territory. When the British seized the territory in 1664 and divided it into the colonies of New York and New Jersey, New Amsterdam was renamed New York City in honor of England's Duke of York.
Except for a brief recapture by the Dutch in 1673, New York City was controlled by the British until the American Revolution. After New York ratified the Constitution in 1788, the thriving port city was named state capital, a title it held until 1797. In the late 1700s, New York City also served as capital of the United States (1789-90) and home to Congress (1785-90). By the close of the eighteenth century, it was America's largest metropolis.
In the 1800s growth on Manhattan Island boomed, first with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which facilitated trading by linking New York with the Great Lakes region, and second, with the arrival of thousands of immigrants, mostly from Europe. In 1898, Manhattan merged with its neighbors Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island to form the five-borough metropolis we know today as New York City. A center for finance, commerce, and culture, New York rose out of a wooded island to become one of the world's great cities, its Manhattan skyline an icon of the American Dream.
- View more photographs of Manhattan. Search on Manhattan in Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 and Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955, or, search on New York City in Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 Search on New York or Manhattan in America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945.
- See more maps of Manhattan. Search across the Map Collections on New York City.
- The Today in History Archive contains a variety of features pertaining to the development of Manhattan landmarks. Search for example, on New York City to retrieve information about King's College (now Columbia University), the New York Public Library, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Guggenheim Museum.
- Learn more about the forces that contributed to the growth of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. Visit Immigration, a feature presentation of the Teachers Page.
- Don't miss The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906, an American Memory collection with forty-five early films portraying the construction of skyscrapers, the busy waterfront, street parades, markets, horse-drawn carriages, and new automobiles and subways. To find these cinematic treasures, browse the collection's Film Title List or Subject Index.
- Search across American Memory on the terms fireman, firemen, or New York fireman to find more about the individuals who help protect Manhattan from fire and fire-related emergencies. See, for example, "The Life of a New York Fireman" from an 1877 issue of Harper's magazine, or the 1888 sheet music "Our Gallant Firemen," which is "dedicated most respectfully to the Members of the New York Fire Department."
- Visit The Atlantic World: America and the Netherlands, a collaborative effort between the Library of Congress and the National Library of the Netherlands which explores the history of the Dutch presence in America. Search across the interpretive texts and collections for more information on the early settlement of Manhattan.