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Detailed History

Special Collections and Archives

Detailed History

Special Collections and Archives

Detailed History

Davey Tree Expert Company

Excerpts taken from the Davey Bulletin, December 1984

75th Anniversary Issue

Roots of the Davey Tree Expert Company were firmly implanted in England 63 years before the company gained corporate status. It was on June 6, 1846, that John Davey was born at Stawley in Somersetshire on a farm where his father served as manager.

During John Davey's years of youth there were no public schools in rural England, hence no opportunity for him to gain an education. He was 21 before he learned his ABCs. At that age, too, he made an important decision---he would study horticulture and landscape gardening.

To fulfill that commitment, he went to Torquay in southern England, the home of famous gardens and greenhouses. He was apprenticed there for six years, completing his training at age 27.

Like millions of other sons of Europe, he heard the call to America....At age 27, he landed at Castle Garden, N.Y., in the spring of 1873. Soon after, he came to Warren, Ohio, and found work as a janitor at a private school.

[eventually]...he accepted a job at Standing Rock Cemetery in Kent, Ohio.

With his wife, whom he had met and married in Warren, he moved to Kent in 1881. His job was a challenging one. In existence for more than twenty years, Standing Rock Cemetery was overgrown with plants which were suffering from lack of care and poor planning....He worked out a careful plan for the grounds and transformed the cemetery into a place of striking beauty with new plantings of trees, shrubs and flowers.

He became a prolific writer of pamphlets and a frequent lecturer on natural subjects, and continued to preach his doctrine of tree surgery and the importance of maintaining a proper balance of nature.

By 1890, he became known as the "treeman of the town." John Davey and his eldest son, Wellington, planted hundreds of trees along the streets and around homes in the community and performed a modest amount of tree work. He became determined to gain acceptance of his methods for the care of trees, and he decided to write a book....

He worked 12 hours per day earning a meager living and then, at night, he meticulously prepared copy for a book for which he could find no financial backers. Dedicated to the preservation of trees, he assumed a debt of $7000 to meet the cost of printing.

The year was 1901. The Tree Doctor was published, a milestone in the career of John Davey and the science of tree preservation.

As a result of The Tree Doctor, more work came John Davey's way than he and his two sons, Wellington and Jim...could handle. John Davey began to train men in the new science as early as 1902....

With the same determination that had marked his whole life, he began the development of a tree care organization. He trained men, supervised their work, managed the expanding venture and still found time to write more books and articles and to give more lectures.

The Tree Doctor won the support of several prominent easterners, among them J. Horace McFarland, president of the American Civic Association....McFarland...arranged contracts with those leaders for...speaking engagements and tree clinics. Among those leaders was George Eastman, father of the Eastman Kodak Company who, in 1908, arranged for Davey to address some of the wealthiest citizens of Rochester, N.Y.

...he and his son Wellington established the Davey School of Practical Forestry, field training which evolved into more formal classroom study renamed The Davey Institute of Tree Surgery and, later, The Davey Institute of Tree Science....the school came into being between 1902 and 1906....

John Davey was a naturalist, not a manager. As orders for his services exceeded his expectations, he soon realized that he was being inundated by managerial matters and something must be done. Enter, Martin L. Davey,...John's second son.

Martin then was a student at Oberlin College....His father induced him to interrupt his studies to become a partner in the growing tree business. That was in 1906. Martin, then not yet 23, recognized this as a great opportunity so he accepted. He never returned to school.

In the fall of 1908, John Davey and son Martin made two important decisions. One was to establish a formal school in which men would be trained scientifically to perform tree surgery work; the other was to organize the business on a permanent basis.

The business was incorporated as The Davey Tree Expert Company on February 4, 1909. John Davey was the President, and Martin became the general manager and treasurer.

Instructors for the first formal school included two well-known professors from Cornell University....Botany and entomology were the principal courses of study along with specimen identification , trimming training, tree diseases, cavity filling and the like, plus instruction in English and accounting.

Throughout most of its early years, The Davey Tree Expert Company was beset by a multitude of problems: insufficient operating capital, shortage of credit, difficulties in finding men to perform the work.

In 1910...Martin set in motion a table of organization that still prevails in the company today. He set up territories and assigned a salesman to each of them. The salesman was responsible for obtaining sufficient business to keep crews busy and for profit in his territory.

In 1911, Martin took a bold step. He conceived the idea that the Company could gain immeasurable prestige if Davey crews could perform work on the U.S. Capitol grounds. After frustrating attempts to interest the grounds superintendent, Martin turned to a more direct approach. He clipped an insect infested branch from a maple tree and placed it upon the superintendent's desk. He got the order and, thus, began a long association of The Davey Tree Expert Company in the performance of government work, which has included Davey treatment of trees at the White House, the Washington elm in Washington D.C., a horse chestnut planted by the first president in Fredricksburg, VA., and many others including work performed on trees on the Parliament Grounds in Ottawa, Canada.

Such bold moves went a long way in launching Davey's national reputation.

By 1915, the Davey Expert Tree Company was demonstrating steady progress. Earnings had been plowed back into the business and, during the period from 1915 to 1920, the company expanded five times than during its first years following incorporation.

The burgeoning company...was plunged into sorrow on November 8, 1923 with the death of John Davey. He was laid to rest in Standing Rock Cemetery.

John Davey's death called for a reorganization of the company. Martin...was elected president. Paul Davey was named first vice president and director of research. James A.G. Davey became second vice president and New York manager.

The "Davey Radio Hour" was a serious bid for national attention. For 26 weeks in 1930, the company sponsored the program of old music favorites which was aired from New York City and transmitted by 18 stations of the National Broadcasting Company....

A weekly feature on the program was an eight minute talk by Martin Davey. His talks dealt with the Davey philosophy of caring for trees.... The radio program, coming at a time when the country was in deep depression, was only one phase of a multi-sided public relations and advertising thrust conceived by the company during that period.

Other Important Davey Tree Expert Company Figures

Martin ("Brub") L. Davey Jr. : son of Martin L. Davey, 1940 graduate of Yale University with a major in botany and a minor in business administration, veteran of WW II, elected company president in 1946, left the office in 1961.

Alexander M. Smith: husband of Evangeline Davey, served on board of directors, elected chairman of the board, served as president of Lamson and Sessions Company, and served as "part-time" president of Davey Tree Company from 1961 to 1965.

Paul Hershey: served as president from 1965 to 1968. (first nonfamily president)

Joseph T. Myers: served as president from 1972 to 1976.

John W. Joy: began term as president in 1977

*** During the tenure of Mr. Joy, the Davey family sold the company