The Davey Tree Legacy: Since 1880

Trees were just the beginning.

Since 1880, our clients have trusted us to care for their most precious natural assets. Our history is rooted in preserving and caring for trees … but our evolution has grown to include whole natural environments.

This trust is based on our integrity, more than a century of proven expertise, and professional yet passionate dedication to their needs. Davey is one of only a handful of companies in the world that can claim this rich, century-plus heritage and a record of continuous growth, even during tough economic times.

Proven Solutions for a Growing World is our promise to you. It’s rooted in our heritage of integrity, experience, commitment, capability and expertise. It’s a promise our employee owners make to every client, on every property, each and every day.

To learn more, browse through each chapter below to read more about our unique culture and history, our Davey Institute – our research and development arm – or simply browse our newsroom for the latest Davey news, media contacts and story ideas.

Our Heritage

It started with a love for trees.

Our story starts as many do. But instead of being told around a campfire or in a classroom, ours is best told beneath the enveloping, cooling shade of an old oak tree.

When John Davey moved from Somersetshire, England, to Ohio in 1873, the country was in a severe depression. But Davey’s skills with plants and dedication to tree care and conservation quickly became well-known, and he was never short of work.

One of his earliest challenges was to transform the landscape at Standing Rock Cemetery in Kent, Ohio, which at the time had been in existence for more than 20 years and was overgrown with plants suffering from a lack of care and poor planning. Davey went to work, and soon people came from far and near to marvel and admire the cemetery, which he had transformed from a dilapidated graveyard to a beautiful memorial park. During his time at Standing Rock, Davey developed many mechanical and scientific principles that have become basic in the practice of tree care today.

Soon, Davey became the town’s “tree man.” He started The Davey Tree Expert Company in 1880 on the basis that trees could be saved and made to flourish with proper attention.

“Do it right or not at all.”

arborist climber

Throughout his life and career, John Davey was inspired and influenced by a lesson his father taught him when he was just 4 years old.

He was watching his father plant potatoes and asked if he might plant one, too. His father cut a potato in half and sent the youngster to fetch a large iron spoon. He looked at John and said, “Listen to me carefully. Do it right or not at all.” Then he showed John how to plant the two pieces of potato and how to use the spoon to properly cover them with dirt.

As the summer wore on, young John carefully tended his potato plants, learning all of the basics of proper plant care from his father.

John frequently referred to this lesson as he grew The Davey Tree Expert Company to motivate employees and to inspire creative solutions for clients.

The original tree doctor.

The Original Tree Doctor

In the early 1900s, business was growing, reaching the point where there was enough work to keep John Davey and his sons busy.

Davey was convinced people loved trees and neglected them only because they didn’t know how to care for them. So he decided to begin writing a tree care book that demonstrated his methods for doctoring trees based on sound scientific methods and observation. In his book, The Tree Doctor (published in 1901), he discusses the important of leaves, a tree’s root system, cell structure, cambium layer, sap flow and nutritional and maintenance needs, as well as the relationships these elements have to each other and how keeping them in proper balance helps boost and maintain tree health.

For property owners caring for one or two trees, The Tree Doctor was a much needed guide to proper care. For wealthy estate owners who didn’t have the ability or manpower to care for their magnificent specimen trees, Davey became the expert to which they turned to for help.

Like father, like son.

After publishing The Tree Doctor in 1901, the demand for John Davey’s tree care services continued to grow, expanding from Ohio into Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and even the Canadian cities of Toronto and Ottawa.

John Davey’s son, Martin, became president of the company in 1906. Under Martin’s leadership, the company tended trees on highly visible properties, including New York’s Central Park. Davey also planted trees in Philadelphia for each of the original 13 colonies during the U.S. Sesquicentennial and sponsored a national broadcast radio program, growing in popularity across the country.

As his involvement in the company grew, Martin also pursued politics, eventually becoming mayor of the Davey Company’s headquarters – Kent, Ohio – a four-term member of Congress and a two-term governor of Ohio.

Creating a tree care institute.

As Davey grew, so did its need to train its growing employee base on Davey’s signature tree care techniques.

In 1909, Davey founded the Davey Institute of Tree Surgery (D.I.T.S.). Every winter, employees would come to Davey headquarters in Kent, Ohio, for an extensive training session focusing on personal growth and scientific knowledge. This added not only additional value to the company and its clients but also made employees' jobs that much more meaningful and interesting.

The Institute was patterned after a college environment with study courses. Original classes in the early 1900s were held for three months at a time or three, four-month terms given during three consecutive winters, starting in early December and ending in early March.

To further foster a college atmosphere, there was an extensive outdoor component to the training that involved advanced tree climbing and other physical job skills.

This scientific approach to tree care through research and education helped Davey earn 14 patents between 1900 and 1920. In 1954, the company opened the Davey Technical Services Center in Kent, Ohio, which houses the offices, laboratory and library for the technical staff, as well as classrooms for D.I.T.S. students. Today, this facility is known as the Davey Institute.

Today, Davey still brings employees to its headquarters every February for a month-long D.I.T.S. training session with focused, detailed curriculum both in the classroom and in the trees.

Employee loyalty through World War I.

World War I had a direct effect on The Davey Tree Expert Company. There was plenty of business for the company but the draft was taking men into the army at a rapid rate. Davey field men were prime targets because many were unmarried and all of them were intelligent and accustomed to outdoor work, which put them in excellent physical condition.

While replacing these men was challenging, the company kept in touch with its workforce overseas by sending them frequent letters from the president, in addition to issues of The Bulletin, the company’s employee magazine, to keep them abreast of what was going on in “their” company. As soon as the war was over, most of these men returned to Davey.

Branching out.

John Davey’s son, Paul, head of the field force and research department, had set two main objectives for himself during his early career at Davey: mechanize operations and build a better winter volume of work in the seasonal business of tree care.

As Commissioner of Shade Trees for the city of Kent, Ohio, Paul was regularly approached by utility companies asking for permission to clear trees so they could run power lines through the city. Paul was concerned; he thought they wanted to cut them down vs. just prune them. He also recognized the importance of bringing electric power to the community. Since property owners took a dim view of utility companies without tree care knowledge cutting their trees, this gave Paul an idea. Davey could do the work for the power companies and preserve and care for trees at the same time. Thus, the company’s line clearance and vegetation management division was born. This also helped extend the company’s reach to the West Coast.

As the company continued to grow its services, it also developed techniques and equipment to address client needs, including air-cooled compressors, insect control misters, brush control sprays, brush chippers and speed saws. Paul was passionate about mechanizing tree care procedures.

In 1926, Davey added another specialized service to its list: the moving of large, full-grown trees. Paul Davey helped develop equipment that made this service possible. There were reports of the company moving trees that weighed up to 22 tons in its early years.

Initially, large tree moving was done frequently to help eliminate the cold, stark appearance of new buildings. A good example of this is the large number of trees Davey planted around the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., as well as many public and private buildings in all parts of the U.S. and Canada.

Today, large trees are moved for a variety of reasons, including preservation of mature species that bring a lot of value to local communities. Davey partners with Environmental Design Inc. to combine superior tree moving expertise with the most comprehensive aftercare in the industry.

Employee ownership proves loyalty and drives productivity.

In 1979, employee ownership was the beginning of a new era for the Davey Company. Davey had been established, owned and managed by the Davey family almost entirely since its founding in 1880.

Almost immediately after the Davey family’s decision to sell the company, an employee ownership committee was created and met with the family to explore the possibility of the employees purchasing the company. A financial commitment was made by 114 employees who participated in purchasing more than 60,000 shares of stock.

Some of the many benefits of employee ownership have been sales and profit performance improvement, as well as boosts in loyalty and productivity. Following the sale to the employees, the Davey company enjoyed huge growth in sales, revenue and market share.

Today, Davey Tree is Ohio’s largest employee-owned company and the fifteenth-largest in the nation. Adapted from a speech to the Ohio Center for Employee Ownership in 2014, The Davey Tree Expert Company Chairman and CEO Karl Warnke talks about the five hallmarks of a successful ESOP strategy.

New directions

Davey launches the Davey Resource Group (DRG), its natural resource and utility consulting division, to extend the benefits of its research and innovation to outside organizations.

The move enables Davey to offer turn-key utility consulting solutions, natural resource investment management, green space assessment and inventory as well as environmental improvement services, such as protecting wetlands or restoring streams, to its clients.

Proven solutions for a growing world.

Our brand promise – Proven Solutions for a Growing World – acknowledges our heritage of serving clients with integrity, delivering imaginative solutions and building stronger relationships with our clients.

This promise is not only an extension of our legacy, but also a drive to focus on delivering exceptional results to our clients, so we can continue to grow together.

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