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Early Pest and Pesticide Laws

In the United States pest and pesticides were regulated as early as the late 19th century. Similar laws were passed in Canada and Europe. This gallery documents some of these laws.

1896 San Jose Scale Law - Virginia (US)

The San Jose Scale Law of 1896 was one of the first pest quarantine laws adopted in the eastern United States.

In early records it was reported that in 1892, William Bradford Alwood discovered the San Jose Scale (an invasive insect pest never before seen in the Eastern United States) in an orchard in Albemarle County, Virginia. 

 

According to A. E. Stene (The San Jose Scale and methods of treatment, 1908) and Dr. C. L. Marlett, (USDA, Washington, DC - a former student of Alwood) the first discovery of the scale was in 1893 on the grounds of Dr. C. H. Hedges in Charlottesville. The infestation was investigated, and the introduction was quite definitely traced to two New Jersey nurseries. The nurseries in 1886 and 1887, in an endeavor to secure a curculio-proof plum, had imported a number of plum trees from the San Jose district in California. These nurseries, probably without knowing what a serious pest they were distributing, scattered its broadcast in various localities in the Eastern United States. It soon got into other nurseries, and at the time of its discovery in 1893, as subsequent investigation proved, it had become established in a large number of different places in the various states. Since then, and until the inspection laws became generally enacted in the different states, while some of the nurseries took pains to send out only clean stock, the scale was still further disseminated into almost every state in the Union by ignorant and irresponsible nurserymen and others dealing in shrubs and trees liable to be infested. Legislation put a partial check on the continued distribution, but the scale was so far scattered that all hope of eradicating it was gone. At that point only efforts to minimize its damage were viable.

 

Knowing that the pest apparently originated in nursery stock from outside the region, Alwood (a professor and head of the VPI Horticulture, Mycology and Entomology department (1888-1904) and a special agent to the USDA) convinced the state industry and the Virginia General Assembly to adopt the first crop-pest law in the eastern United States. The law was passed in 1896 and it identified Alwood as the state entomologist in-charge of inspection and eradication of the pest. A task that was not accompanied with funds or support of any kind and contributed to Alwood eventually leaving VPI (1904) and returning to the USDA as its (first) chief enologist. Alwood was very unpopular in carrying out his tasks to eliminate the pest through destruction of infested plants. Even today, descendants of apple growers volunteer their ancestors' disdain for the entomologist.

 

To survey the orchards of Virginia for the "Sandy Hosey" (the local name for the San Jose Scale), Alwood mounted his bicycle and toured the state throughout 1897 and 1898. Alwood was a member of the VPI Bicycle Club - so it appeared that he might have combined his love of bicycling with a means to reach the orchards at minimal cost.

 

Files
San Jose Scale Law of 1896   94.2 MB  
From the Southern Planter magazine - May, 1896. (98.6mb)
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