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FROM THE HEAD BUG by Steve Yaninek

Entomology at Purdue: The Early Years

Steve Yaninek

In the previous newsletter, I talked about entomology in Indiana before there was a Purdue University. In this issue, I'll sketch the history of entomology at Purdue during the early years of the University. Purdue was established in 1869, and the first students walked through the door in 1874. The first curriculum in the School of Agriculture and Horticulture was established in 1876, and it would take another 4 years before the first students enrolled in this option.

Apparently, the first Purdue students were either not interested in the School of Agriculture and Horticulture, or the first applicants were not impressed with a curriculum that had no dedicated faculty to teach the courses. The University got the message and hired Charles L. Ingersoll in 1879 as the first instructor in the School. The first class of students in Agriculture and Horticulture began their studies in the fall of 1879, and it would be the spring of the next year before the first six-week course in entomology was taught during the third term for first year students.

W. C. Latta was recruited in 1882 to join the faculty, but Ingersoll decided to leave Purdue a few months later, leaving Latta as the sole instructor in Agriculture. The demand for additional faculty in the School of Agriculture and Horticulture prompted the hiring of James Troop in 1884 to teach and head the new Department of Horticulture and Entomology. Troop carried much of the teaching responsibilities for this new department for the remainder of the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries. Troop was the first to be named state entomologist in Indiana. This designation was granted when the original Indiana San Jose Scale and Nursery Inspection law was passed in 1899. Troop was put in charge of enforcing the new law. He held this title until 1907 when a more comprehensive law was passed, and a new state office was established in Indianapolis. Benjamin W. Douglas became the first full-time state entomologist in a long line of distinguished professionals under this revised act. Troop continued to teach after Horticulture and Entomology split into separate departments in 1912 and for 9 more years after J. J. Davis became department head in 1920. Troop enjoyed teaching and was well liked by his students, so continuing as a teacher after 36 years as department head was not a problem. However, planning for retirement had been a problem for him. Evidently, the University did not have a pension scheme in place for the very first faculty, and Troop managed a pension received directly from the department after he retired in 1929 until his death in 1941.

By 1884, entomology was taught in the first term of the junior year. These early students had a number of important resources available to help them with their education in entomology. One was the first insect collection established in 1876-1877 which was probably put in place specifically to support teaching. This early collection included specimens collected in the vicinity of Lafayette and the Scheuch collection with 7000 specimens and more than 2000 species, mostly beetles, from Europe. The ultimate fate of this collection remains unknown, hence the speculation that the material was used for teaching. The current research collection in the department had its start with the purchase of the T. B. Ashton beetle collection in 1896. The other important resource for the first students was the university library which began with 30 books in 1874. Four of the original acquisitions were books on entomology which included “Insects Injurious to Vegetation” by Thad W. Harris, “Guide to the Study of Insects” by Alpheus S. Packard, “The Hive and the Honey Bee” by L.L. Langstroth, and “Mysteries of Bee Keeping” by M. Quinby. All of these books can still be found in Purdue’s library inventory today.

The curriculum developed slowly in the 19th century, but one significant change was the creation of the Winter Short Course designed for “students” interested in “modern” agriculture, but not necessarily in a college degree. The Winter Short Course started in 1895 as 8 to 11 weeks of intensive lectures with a focus on general agriculture and economic entomology. By 1902, students could specialize in general agriculture, horticulture, dairy, or animal husbandry. This technical training opportunity became a popular mainstay at Purdue and continued each winter until the early 1970s. 

As mentioned in the previous newsletter, it would be 50 years after the death of Thomas Say before the next professional entomologist would appear on the scene in Indiana. As it happened, that person was probably F. M. Webster who was sent to Purdue in 1884 as a special agent from the USDA. He worked for the Division of Cereal and Forage Insects and became a consulting entomologist to the Department of Horticulture and Entomology. Webster was never on the department’s payroll, but he was listed as a member of the staff, sometimes as professor of economic entomology and sometimes as entomologist. Ingersoll and Latta may have taught entomology, but their training and expertise was in general agriculture. Likewise, Troop was trained as a generalist in agriculture, and although he arrived at Purdue the same year as Webster, he split his teaching time with horticulture. Webster, on the other hand, worked exclusively on insect problems. He published an article on “The Hessian Fly” in the inaugural issue of the Experiment Station Bulletin in December 1884 which established a foundation for more than a century of Hessian Fly research and almost continuous collaboration between the department and USDA at Purdue.

Webster left Purdue in 1891 to become state entomologist in Ohio, but later rejoined USDA as director of the Division of Cereal and Forage Insects in Washington, D.C. It was while in this position, that Webster established one of the first USDA field stations in the US in Richmond, Indiana in 1905. There is a connection between this field station and J.J. Davis – a future department head in Entomology. A few years after the lab was established in 1911, J.J. (or “June Bug” as he was sometimes affectionately called) Davis, joined the USDA Bureau of Entomology in charge of the Cereal and Forage Insect Laboratory (this was after the lab moved from Richmond, Indiana to the Purdue Experiment Station in West Lafayette in 1909). J.J. succeeded W. J. Phillips as head of the lab in 1913 until he transferred to New Jersey in 1919 to take charge of the new USDA Japanese Beetle Lab. There will be much more about J.J. Davis in the next issue where I will focus on his career in the department from 1920 to 1956.

In this Issue:
Feature Article
  • Purdue Reception Recognizes Establishment of John Osmun Endowed Professorship
Department News
  • 2007 Osmun Award Winner
  • 2007 Entomology Education Project Award
  • Hambleton Award
  • Gates Foundation Grant
  • International Travel
  • New Staff
From the Head Bug
  • Entomology at Purdue:
    The Early Years
Outreach Update
  • Outreach in Entomology
    at Purdue University
Entomology Students
  • Ag Ambassador
  • Summer Graduates
  • Feature Essay – Andy Ammons
Alumni News
From the editor

With each issue of Entomology @ Purdue we keep you up-to-date on what's happening in the Department of Entomology and with Alumni. Will you please take a moment to help keep us up-to-date with you? Paula Layden
Editor, Entomology @ Purdue
Department of Entomology
Purdue University
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Phone: 765-496-1119
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