The celebration of Darwin's work and tributes to his life have been organized sporadically since his death on 19 April 1882, at age 73. Events took place at Down House, in Downe on the southern outskirts of London where Darwin and members of his family lived from 1842 until the death of his wife, Emma Darwin, in 1896.
In 1909, more than 400 scientists and dignitaries from 167 countries met in Cambridge to honour Darwin's contributions and to discuss vigorously the recent discoveries and related theories contesting for acceptance. This was a widely reported event of public interest. Also in 1909, on 12 February, the 100th birth anniversary of Darwin and the 50th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species were celebrated by the New York Academy of Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History. A bronze bust of Darwin was unveiled. On 2 June 1909 the Royal Society of New Zealand held a "Darwin Celebration". "There was a very large attendance."
On 24–28 November 1959, The University of Chicago held a major, well publicised, celebration of Darwin and the publication of On the Origin of Species, the largest event of the Darwin Centennial Celebration.
Scientists and academics sometimes celebrated 12 February with "Phylum Feast" events—a meal with foods from as many different phyla as they could manage, at least as early as 1972, 1974, and 1989 in Canada.
In the United States, Salem State College in Massachusetts has held a "Darwin Festival"
annually since 1980, and in 2005, registered "Darwin Festival" as a service mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
The Humanist Community
of Palo Alto, California, was motivated by Dr. Robert Stephens in late 1993 to begin planning for an annual "Darwin Day" celebration. Its first public Darwin Day event was a lecture by Dr. Donald Johanson (discoverer of the early hominid "Lucy"), sponsored by the Stanford Humanists student group
and the Humanist Community on 22 April 1995. The Humanist Community continues its annual celebration of Darwin, science, and humanity, on 12 February.
Independently, in 1997, Professor Massimo Pigliucci initiated an annual "Darwin Day" event with students and colleagues at the University of Tennessee. The event included several public lectures and activities as well as a teachers' workshop meant to help elementary and secondary school teachers better understand evolution and how to communicate it to their students, as well as how to deal with the pressures often placed on them by the creationism movement.
2009 marked an important year for Darwin Day celebrations. The year was the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and it also marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Events were planned, with the most prominent celebrations in Shrewsbury, the University of Cambridge and at the Natural History Museum in London.
Darwin's alma mater, Christ's College, Cambridge, commemorated the bicentenary with the unveiling of a life-sized bronze statue of the Young Darwin, sculpted by their former graduate Anthony Smith. HRH Prince Philip unveiled the statue and it was later shortlisted for the Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture 2009. In the same year, two well known evolutionary biologists, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne published book length treatments covering the evidence for evolution.
The Perth Mint, Australia launched a 2009 dated commemorative 1-ounce silver legal tender coin depicting Darwin, young and old; HMS Beagle; and Darwin's signature.
On 9 February 2011, California Representative Pete Stark introduced H. Res 81 to Congress designating 12 February 2011 as Darwin Day. The resolution states, "Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific advancement... and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity." The resolution was a culmination of collaboration between Rep. Stark and the American Humanist Association, which honoured Stark with the Humanist of the Year award in 2008. In a statement on the House floor, Rep. Stark said, "Darwin's birthday is a good time for us to reflect on the important role of science in our society." In a press release from the American Humanist Association, executive director Roy Speckhardt said, "Stark's Darwin Day resolution is a thrilling step forward for the secular movement. Not only is this an opportunity to bring the scientific impact of Charles Darwin to the forefront, but this also signifies the potential for greater respect for scientific reasoning on Capitol Hill."
On 22 January 2013, New Jersey Representative Rush D. Holt, Jr., a Quaker Christian and nuclear physicist, introduced a resolution to the United States Congress designating 12 February 2013 (Charles Darwin's 204th birthday) as "Darwin Day" to recognise "the importance of sciences in the betterment of humanity".
In 2015, Delaware's governor Jack Markell declared 12 February "Charles Darwin Day", making Delaware the first state in America to formally mark the occasion.
House Resolution 67, introduced by Representative Jim Himes in the United States House of Representatives on 2 February 2015 would designate 12 February as Darwin Day in the United States. It would recognize Darwin as "a worthy symbol on which to focus...a global celebration of science and humanity."