Skip Navigation

Early Work of the Department (1889–1912)

Dr. George H. Cook, first Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station occasionally received requests for information on the control of insects. Although not an entomologist himself, he gave such aid as the limited facilities of the institution then permitted. In 1880, for example, he reported that some encouraging work had been done on the army worm, and in 1881, we find an inquiry concerning the clover seed midge referred to Andrew S. Fuller, whose reply supplied the basis for a bulletin. It was not until federal funds became available in 1888, that it was possible to attempt the study of insects in a definite and organized way, and the Department of Entomology was then organized under the Reverend George D. Hulst as entomologist. Although a clergyman by profession, Hulst was also a zealous student of botany and entomology, with a reputation for his work on certain groups of Lepidoptera. In 1887 he became editor of Entomologica Americana, and the following year was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As entomologist of the Station, Hulst directed attention "to studying the habits of insects both useful and injurious, and to experiments for benefiting the one and destroying the other." He made special studies of insects injurious to cabbage and shade trees, and suggested remedies for the white-marked tussock moth, bagworm, codling moth, plum curculio, and rose beetle. But after one year's service Hulst resigned to devote full time to his pastorate.

John B. Smith.
John B. Smith.

John B. Smith

On April 1, 1889, John Bernard Smith succeeded Hulst as the Station Entomologist. Although without formal scientific training, he was greatly interested in insects and had previously served as a special agent for the Division of Entomology, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and as assistant curator in the Division of Insects of the U.S. National Museum. Immediately on assuming office, Smith issued a bulletin called Entomological Suggestions and Inquires, in which he invited farmers to send him specimens of injurious insects and indicated other ways in which farmers could helpfully cooperate with him. Soon he had not only abundant material for study, but also a multitude of problems to solve. Carrying on the work begun by Hulst, added to collections and began studies of insects of greatest importance in the state. One of his first achievements was the establishment of a system of inspection of nurseries to prevent the spread of insects, and later, he aided in framing the plan for bee inspection enacted into law by the legislature of 1911.

A bibliography of Smith's publications cover at least 600 titles, ranging from papers in entomological journals to large bulletins, circulars, and books. Though his office was noted for its practical work, throughout his career he continued to take an active interest in every phase of entomological research. He published three great catalogues of the insects found in New Jersey. The third edition, published in 1909 as a report to the State Museum, enumerated over ten thousand species. His best systematic work was undoubtedly with Noctuidae the Lepidopterous family, on which he was the leading American authority. His important works of a popular nature were Economic Entomology, a valuable book for students and farmers, and Our Insect Friends and Enemies. His A Contribution toward a knowledge of the Mouth Parts of the Diptera set forth views on the homologies of these organs quite different from those then accepted. His Explanations of Terms Used in Entomology and his two lists of Lepidoptera of Boreal America were outstanding works in the field. Another well-known publication was the special 482-page The Mosquitoes of New Jersey, in which he reported on different species and their habitats, life-histories, and control.

For four years, Smith was the sole member of the Department of Entomology. Then, in 1893, his sister-in-law, Augusta E. Meske, became stenographer and clerk. In February, 1912, the department moved from its old quarters in New Jersey Hall to the adjoining building n Neilson Campus. This two-and-one-half storied brick structure, originally a barn, was remodeled to become the Entomology Building and equipped to house the insect collections and the offices, laboratories, and classrooms of the department.

The complete story of the hundreds of insect pests which Smith studied and in many cases successfully combated through the twenty-three years of his labors in New Jersey would make a bulky volume. In the first year studies were made of the horn fly, elm leaf beetle, clover leaf beetle, asparagus beetle, yellow- necked apple tree caterpillar, plum curculio, fall webworm, and the periodical cicada. We find an experiment in spraying for the codling moth, using "London purple," recorded as successful. For the peach borer, we find worming, kerosene emulsion and straw collars suggested, and for the grape vine saw fly, hellebore and tobacco dust. Tobacco dust was also used against the white cabbage butterfly, and Paris green against the cutworm. In 1890 the most destructive insects mentioned were the squash and melon borer, plant lice, cabbage maggots, the rose chafer, the wheat louse, wireworms, and cutworms on corn. In addition there was considerable discussion of insects injurious to sweet potatoes, grapes, and peaches.

In 1894 Smith found the insect injury to be so great that he spent fifty days in the field studying various pests and their control, one of the most successful experiments of which was the killing of melon lice with carbon bisulfide. Another test of materials for banding trees revealed a practical control for the sinuate pear borer.

The Hessian fly, bagworm, fall webworm, maple pseudococcus, and an especially large infestation of the Colorado potato received attention in 1895. Arsenate of lead was used successfully for the control of the elm leaf beetle. The army-worm, harlequin cabbage bug, and melon louse were recorded in 1896. Through the following years other insect studies included the strawberry leaf roller, the strawberry root louse, the tulip soft scale, the apple plant louse, the angoumois grain moth, and the rose scale. As early as 1899, Smith supervised tests of fumigating nursery stock with cyanide, and in 1901 he introduced the praying mantis as a predatory insect.

As a summary of his experiences with various materials, Dr. Smith published a bulletin in 1903 titled Insecticides and Their Use. In 1905 he published a study concerned with the spraying of shade trees, and in 1906 conducted practical experiments with insecticides and made a study of their methods of manufacture. A second study of the periodical cicada (brood 8) was also made in this latter year. Throughout this period onion and cabbage maggots received special attention, control of the latter being obtained through the use of tarred paper discs. In 1907 tests were made with carbolic acid, and with arsenates of lime, barium, iron, and lead. Cooperative experiments on root maggots were continued in 1908, 1909, and 1910. In cooperation with the horticulturist, studies were begun in 1910 on the peach borer and plum curculio. Investigations on insects injurious to strawberries and to sweet potatoes were published in 1909 and 1910, respectively. And in 1910 also tests on nicotine sulfate and arsenate of iron were made.

Though the results of his study of insects and their control through the nineties and early nineteen hundreds were significant as a foundation for future investigations, it was Smith's work on the San Jose scale which first brought him national recognition in the field of economic entomology. In 1894 the prevalence of San Jose scale had become so alarming in New Jersey that at the request of the State Board of Agriculture, the legislature of 1896 appropriated $1000 for investigations of this pest. Smith made a trip to California to study control methods there and arranged to have colonies of natural enemies sent to New Jersey for release in the most heavily infested orchards. In an exhaustive report of this work, he recommended spraying with fish oil soap. In order to have a laboratory close at hand in which to test his spray materials, in 1898 Smith planted an experimental orchard of fifty fruit trees in his own backyard and on scaly trees and currant bushes tried various treatments. He obtained good results from some of the petroleum products, but he noted that some were harmful to plants. Crude petroleum applied to the dormant trees, however, proved to be successful in controlling the scale, and in the following year lime- sulfur and many miscible oils were tested. But the scale continued to be severe until 1906 when there was a great diminution of the pest. In 1908, however, came another bad outbreak. In his efforts to lessen the costs and dangers involved in the use of undiluted crude petroleum and the work incident to the production of a satisfactory emulsion, Smith pointed out the desirability of finding some method of treating the petroleum by which it could be made directly soluble, or miscible in water. The result was the material known commercially as "Scalecide," which was soon widely adopted for use against this and other pests.

Among the most destructive pests causing economic losses when Smith came to the state, were the insects which attacked the cranberry. He initiated insecticide tests on the bogs of tobacco mixture, kerosene emulsion, pyrethrum, hellebore, "London purple," fish oil, and several other products. In 1891 a mechanical collector of marauding grasshoppers, called the "hopper dozer," was tried out. By 1905, as a result of a study of the influence of temperature of water on insect eggs, Smith had adopted another means of dealing with cranberry pests. By flooding bogs at the proper time, it was found that a measure of control was obtained. Another insect, the cranberry flea beetle which had become troublesome in 1909 and 1910, was partially controlled by Paris green and Bordeaux mixture.

Although Smith had made some observations on mosquitoes and sporadic local attempts had been made to reduce the nuisance prior to 1901, it was not until this year that he seriously took up the question of mosquito control. "I can see no reason," he wrote, "why, inside a decade, New Jersey mosquitoes should not be reduced to a point as to be practically unnoticed. Extermination, be it noted, is not claimed. The plan contemplates permanent relief, based upon intelligent activity, along well defined lines." Responding to his report, in 1902 the state legislature passed an act authorizing and directing the State Agricultural Experiment Station "to investigate and report upon the mosquitoes occurring within the state, their habits, life history, breeding places, relation to malarial and other diseases, the injury caused by them to the agricultural, sanitary and other interests of the state, their natural enemies and the best means of lessening the numbers, injury, or detrimental effect." For this purpose and appropriation of $10,000 was authorized.

Rapid progress was made in 1903. Work had already been done in Essex and Monmouth Counties with funds raised locally. The organization of a Conference Committee on Mosquito Extermination enlisted the cooperation of progressive citizens. Surveys of the salt marshes were conducted by Herman H. Brehme, John Grossbeck, and Henry L, Viereck, in which breeding areas were mapped. With a ditching machine approximately forty thousand feet of ditches six inches wide and two feet deep were cut on the Newark meadows to bring in fish to consume the mosquito larvae. Such drainage of mosquito-breeding areas brought considerable relief from the pests, but the objection of some property owners, however, demonstrated the need to give local boards of health the authority to compel drainage of the necessary areas. In general, as a result of the investigations, it was concluded that for effective mosquito control, salt marshes similar to those at Newark could be ditched by machine, that narrow deep ditches were better than wider shallower ones, that the cost was not prohibitive, and that such drainage would eliminate salt- marsh mosquitoes on areas that could be ditched.

In his special report, The Mosquitoes of New Jersey, Smith showed that a general mosquito problem anywhere within forty miles of the salt marsh required both the elimination of both salt-marsh and fresh- water breeding species. He was the first entomologist to prove that the Atlantic coast Aedes sollicitans breed exclusively in salt marshes but rise and fly many miles inland, nullifying completely the efforts of an inland municipality to free itself from the pest, Thus the failure of some local attempts at mosquito control was explained, and thus in the necessary consideration of the size of an area, elimination of salt- marsh mosquitoes became essentially a state rather than a local problem.

As a result of these discoveries the legislature of 1904 vested local boards of health with authority to eliminate mosquito breeding places as public nuisances. Then, the next year, the legislature made it possible, for communities with salt marshes within their borders to obtain state aid for their treatment under the supervision of the Agricultural Experiment Station. But, although $4,000 was made available in 1905 and $6,000 in 1906, only two municipalities took advantage of this arrangement and the greater part of the appropriations was turned back to the state treasury.

Then in 1906 the legislature passed an act which anticipated a broad program of mosquito control throughout the state, including the elimination of mosquito breeding places on the salt marshes. Local work was to be done through boards of health, but the Experiment Station was designated as the responsible agency. Drainage under this act went forward as rapidly as funds would permit. By 1912 more than forty thousand acres of salt-marsh area from Secaucus to Barnegat had been ditched for mosquito drainage, involving approximately five million feet of ditches, at an estimated cost of $129,500. But this drainage was predicated on the erroneous theory that only certain parts of the salt marsh bred mosquitoes; practically all parts of a salt marsh at times produce broods of mosquitoes.

Such was the status of mosquito control in New Jersey when in 1912 death removed its prime advocate and leader, a crusader who refused to be deterred by discouragement or criticism. Because of declining health, in 1911, Smith had been obliged to forego supervision of much of the work he had started. He died March 12, 1912, and from then until his successor was appointed, Harry B. Weiss as acting state entomologist had charge of inspection activities; Herman H. Brehme supervised the mosquito work and Raymond S. Patterson conducted the teaching of the department.