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The Great Gypsy Moth War

The Great Gypsy Moth War: A History of the First Campaign in Massachusetts to Eradicate the Gypsy Moth, 18901901

Robert J. Spear
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Great Gypsy Moth War
    Book Description:

    In The Great Gypsy Moth War, Robert J. Spear presents the untold story behind the importation and release of the gypsy moth in North America and the astonishing series of coincidences that brought the state of Massachusetts to a decadelong war against this tenacious insect. Spear traces the events leading up to the beginning of the war in 1890, notes the causes for its failure, and shows the terrible legacy it left as the precedent for all subsequent insecteradication campaigns. During the Civil War, when the supply of cotton from southern fields was disrupted, the owners of northern textile mills looked elsewhere for raw fiber. One source was silk. Among those experimenting with silkworm production was a Frenchman named Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, who had settled outside of Boston. It was Trouvelot who imported the gypsy moths and inadvertently allowed them to escape. Soon the invasion was on and a counteroffensive was required. Spear reveals the turbulent undercurrents in the eradication campaign when the enthusiasm of the entomologists in charge turned into desperation upon the discovery that their alien adversary was much tougher than they thought. Fighting a war they could not win and dared not lose, the leaders of the campaign resorted to political maneuvering, cheap tricks, and outright misrepresentation to maintain a façade of success, urging the Commonwealth to continue funding the war long after any chance of victory had faded. More than just reviewing the important events of this historic episode, Spear tells the story in an engaging way, often through the firsthand accounts of those who were directly involved. Much of what Spear has written is new, the recounting is lively, and the information he presents shows that almost all of the previous beliefs about the campaign to eradicate the gypsy moths are myths. In the process, he also traces the rise of modern economic entomology and the birth of the pesticide industry.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-164-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    On January 1, 1896, a committee on gypsy moths of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture published its monographic report,The Gypsy Moth, Porthetria dispar (Linn.): A Report of the Work of Destroying the Insect in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Together With an Account of Its History and Habits Both in Massachusetts and Europe. Today this volume of nearly six hundred pages, with its thick appendixes, numerous plates, and drawings is referred to simply asThe Gypsy Moth. Edward H. Forbush, director of fieldwork against the moth, and economic entomologist Charles H. Fernald, a professor of zoology at the Massachusetts...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Years in the Shadow of Science
    (pp. 7-17)

    The great gypsy moth war began in 1890, but the story starts thirty years earlier, when Etienne Leopold Trouvelot left Europe for Boston, Massachusetts. Trouvelot was born on December 26, 1827, in Guyencourt, Department of Aisne, France. His education and upbringing remain a mystery, but many traits he manifested later in life suggest that he must have been an intelligent and talented student. He was a gifted artist, illustrator, lithographer, and engraver, and the levels to which his skills were developed imply that he had been provided with the best professional instruction. Among the benefits of a nineteenth-century training in...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Gypsy Moth Comes to America
    (pp. 18-30)

    On November 2, 1866, Trouvelot sailed for Europe, where he could obtain the eggs of continental silk moths as well as some recently introduced exotic specimens.¹ It is likely that he stopped in Paris to see Guerin-Meneville, a man who would have been most aware of the latest introductions and their availability. Trouvelot might have had the idea that a few imported varieties would do well in North America or that he could find some that would interbreed with the New World’s silk moths. On the basis of his experiences with Cecropia and Polyphemus, he would have insects that could...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Caterpillars Are Coming!
    (pp. 31-47)

    Each spring during the 1880s, hundreds of caterpillars crawled over the shed behind William Taylor’s rented house at 27 Myrtle Street. Taylor knew that the former occupant, Leopold Trouvelot, had experimented with sericulture but was unaware that the insects he saw were not silkworms. Taylor had no use for the annoying caterpillars and sold the shed to W. B. Harmon on nearby Spring Street. It was this act, Taylor later told the gypsy moth commission, that caused the appearance of the insect in another location and explained how its numbers came to be so great.¹

    The Harmon house was located...

  9. CHAPTER 4 No Holiday Affair
    (pp. 48-64)

    With the new year celebration behind him, Fernald returned to his duties at Amherst to await word from Hagen. In his reply to Fernald on January 15, 1890, written in his awkward English, Hagen gave some bad advice at a bad time: “I myself have seen O. dispar many times in large numbers on property belonging to my father. I have helped kill them, for the next year, very few were left or found. Mr. C. F. Freyer, one of the most prominent lepidopterist in 1879 tells a similar story. A species as nearly related as O. moracha, is of...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Preparations for War
    (pp. 65-80)

    Nathaniel Shaler, now committed to injecting himself forcefully into the gypsy moth campaign, had one last obstacle to overcome: the support Rawson enjoyed because of his friendship with the Republican governor, J. Q. A. Brackett. Shaler’s opening came when Brackett left office after serving a single year and was succeeded by William Eustis Russell, a thirty-four-year-old, reform-minded Democrat and Harvard graduate. Shaler knew Russell personally and after attending his inauguration in early January 1891, he met the new governor on the street in front of the State House. He expressed his concerns that the gypsy moth commission was a divided,...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Moth Slayers
    (pp. 81-96)

    Present at the meeting of March 4 was Edward Howe Forbush of Worcester, director-designate of fieldwork at a salary of $50 per week. Forbush was born in 1858 in Quincy, Massachusetts, to Leander Pomeroy Forbush and Ruth H. Carr. A man of medium height and lithe, athletic build, he had prominent ears and nose, and a high forehead surmounting a face that reminds one of a scholarly owl, an impression reinforced by the large, round eyeglasses he wore later in life. It is an indication of the times that Forbush was largely self-educated, but unlike others of the era, he...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Summer 1891
    (pp. 97-111)

    When J. O. Goodwin’s mapping was finished, the infested region was divided into sections, and each was assigned to a foreman or an inspector. Additional men were hired and trained, a process that continued all summer until the field force numbered 242. The committee inspected residential areas treated by the first commission to determine whether earlier work had been effective. Workmen dismantled fences, pulled up wooden boardwalks, tore apart the steps of houses, and entered buildings, actions that at first astonished the public. Although few egg masses were found on trees, some cellars were badly infested, and quarts of eggs...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Cyclone Burner (1892)
    (pp. 112-124)

    The members of the gypsy moth committee were encouraged by their apparent successes in 1891, but there were aspects of the situation that continued to trouble them. Although they had begun their tenure with disdain of the first commission’s methods, within the year they were doing much the same things themselves—spraying everywhere, felling trees, and setting the scrub woods on fire. They had to admit that they found conditions greatly improved wherever the first commission had worked, but there was ample evidence that the scientific guidance that had failed Rawson had failed them as well. Every passing day seemed...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Lead, Arsenic, Burlap, and Fire (1893)
    (pp. 125-136)

    Through Sessions and Shaler’s skillful maneuvering and considerable influence, the gypsy moth committee continued to enjoy the support of the state’s highest elected official. Speaking before the combined house and senate on January 2, 1893, Governor Frederic T. Greenhalge encouraged the legislators to support the extermination campaign, noting that the situation could not be resolved by partial measures:

    The ravages of this insect have undoubtedly been restricted and minimized, but no precautions have been sufficient to prevent its doing considerable injury. The area of its depredations has not been extended, which is the main feature of encouragement. Upon the whole...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Rebounds and Resignations (1894)
    (pp. 137-150)

    Forbush was determined not to let the moth escape the boundary of 1891. He knew it was easy to overlook the insect and feared that moth colonies established outside the boundary would reinfest areas that had been cleared. The committee had hoarded nearly $30,000 into the new year, and eighty-three men worked through the early months of 1894 making another inspection of the region. Three previously unknown colonies discovered outside the boundary of 1891 and a colony in Boston’s Franklin Park proved to be at least four or five years old while places like the Middlesex Fells showed increased moth...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Unusual Business (1895)
    (pp. 151-165)

    The state legislature asked Massachusetts senators and representatives in the U.S. Congress to request $100,000 to assist in the fight against the gypsy moth. In early January 1895, Francis Appleton, once again drawn into the war, joined William Sessions, William Bowker, and Edward Forbush before House and Senate committees in Washington to support legislation introduced by Massachusetts Senator William Cogswell.¹ Since Massachusetts would not allow gypsy moth appropriations to be spent outside the state, the delegation traveled at its own expense, with some help from Cogswell’s office.

    The visit by the Massachusetts delegation, which included a meeting at the Department...

  17. CHAPTER 12 The Politics of War (1896)
    (pp. 166-182)

    While conditions in the field were becoming more fluid, conditions in the legislature were hardening over the question of funding. Rumors flew that opponents of extermination had enough votes either to reduce the moth appropriation to a crippling level or to defeat the bill altogether. The constantly changing nature of events had brought the war in from the fields and forests of eastern Massachusetts to the streets of the capital city, and the next great battle would be waged in the corridors of the State House in Boston.

    The committee had carried over nearly $40,000 to pay the wages of...

  18. CHAPTER 13 A Moth Too Many (1897)
    (pp. 183-198)

    The gypsy moth committee reported a balance of $8,849.85 at the start of 1897 but expected to use the money to shut down all fieldwork.¹ This was the last year state commissions were permitted to retain funds for more than twelve months. New state laws required the complete expenditure of allocations in the same year they were made, although work could continue for the month of January until legislative action was taken.

    The General Court held hearings on the gypsy moth appropriation in mid-January, a month earlier than usual. Unlike the previous year, this time nobody showed up to argue,...

  19. CHAPTER 14 Do or Die (1898)
    (pp. 199-211)

    State entomologist of Maine F. L. Harvey, had been watching the spread of the gypsy moth in Massachusetts with some concern. He knew about the discovery of the brown-tail there, but did not think he would have to deal with the newer insect first. But when Massachusetts inspectors, trying to ascertain the brown-tail spread that had begun in Somerville, called on George E. Osgood, a physician who spent his summers in Maine, they learned that the brown-tail was already out of the state. As Sessions wrote Harvey: “[Dr. Osgood] saw the brown-tail moth in South Berwick, Maine, while on his...

  20. CHAPTER 15 Failure Is Not an Option (1899)
    (pp. 212-226)

    The year 1899 began with Kirkland shouldering many of the responsibilities normally handled by Forbush, who was “confined to his house by an attack of the grip.”¹ The gypsy moth committee assembled on January 3 but enacted little business. Work on literature for the brown-tail moth halted because there was no money left, and problems with the San Jose scale were demanding more time from Fernald and his assistants at Amherst. Thanks to late appropriations, legions of caterpillars, and recalcitrant park commissioners, and despite the positive spin put on the events of 1898, the committee’s forces had barely escaped a...

  21. CHAPTER 16 The Last Hurrah (1900)
    (pp. 227-244)

    The committee began the last year of the nineteenth century operating through January without an appropriation. The board formed committees that formed subcommittees to make one last effort for a federal appropriation, but in the end the matter was referred back to the gypsy moth committee for some unknown heroic solution; E. W. Wood, Francis Appleton, and William Sessions were delegated to draft such resolutions.¹ But events were moving too fast to be changed.

    Scouts spent a great deal of time inspecting Boston and its wards of Roxbury and Dorchester. When Roxbury had been scouted in 1897, only one caterpillar...

  22. Epilogue
    (pp. 245-262)

    Almost every economic entomologist writing in the years that followed the end of the first campaign claimed that the gypsy moth had been nearly eliminated from eastern Massachusetts as a result of the actions taken against it. In fact, the gypsy moth was nowhere near eradication; these hardy insects were widely dispersed both inside and outside the boundary of 1891. The last words on the contention that the gypsy moth had been reduced to insignificance in Massachusetts go to Charles H. Fernald and his friend and field general, Edward H. Forbush. Speaking at the fifteenth annual meeting of the Association...

  23. Notes
    (pp. 263-286)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-298)
  25. Index
    (pp. 299-308)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-312)