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Who’s Who in Entomology

Thomas Say (1787-1834) is considered the Father of American Entomology.  Born in Pennsylvania, in 1819 he traveled down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to St. Louis, then crossed from Fort Wayne to Chicago as a zoologist on Long’s Expedition to the Source of the St. Peter’s River.  In 1826 he moved to New Harmony, Indiana as part of an expedition known as “The Boatload of Knowledge.”  During his lifetime, he described more than 1500 species, including 26 economically important insects found in Indiana, such as Hessian fly, peach tree borer and plum curculio.  Say died in 1834, fifty years before the first professional entomologist was established at Purdue University.

James Troop (1853-1941) was born in New York and educated at Cornell and Harvard.  By now, Purdue University was established and he headed the Horticulture and Entomology Departments from 1884 until 1912, when Entomology became its own department and Troop became the first Department Head until 1920.  He continued teaching until his 1929 retirement.

F. M. Webster was a special agent from the USDA and consulting entomologist to the department from 1884 until 1891.  He was the first professional entomologist in the state of Indiana.

Department Evolution

In 100 years, there have been only 6 Entomology Department Heads: James Troop, J.J. Davis, John Osmun, Eldon Ortman, Christian Oseto, and Steve Yaninek.  Three of these have been President of ESA: Davis, Ortman and Oseto.

Purdue University was established in 1869 as a teaching college; the first classes were conducted in 1874, and the first classes in entomology were taught in the spring of 1880 through the School of Agriculture and Horticulture, of which J. Troop became the head in 1884.  Over the past 100 years the department has established impressive collections, including one of the most important aquatic insect collections in North America.  The original single course had expanded to five by 1920, then to 31 in 1954.  In 2006 the Entomology Department offered 53 courses plus special topics.  Numerous textbooks and other publications have been written and/or illustrated by Entomology Department faculty and staff.   The Department now participates in the study abroad program, and many alumni have gone on to serve as Department Heads, Deans, pest control specialists, government consultants, and faculty around the world.  William Brehm and George Gilmore, two undergraduates, invented the B&G sprayer and today run B&G Equipment Company.  Wayne Hockmeyer (BS ’66) is the founder and CEO of a major biomedical company, MedImmune, which focuses on infectious diseases, cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Purdue University Entomology research is globally recognized for excellence.  Based in host plant resistance, work has been done with Hessian flies, alfalfa insects, soy bean cyst nematodes, and our entomoligists work intricately with USDA on plant resistance and pest management.  With an emerging interest in molecular entomology, Purdue boasts one of the largest groups of molecular entomologists in the country involved in numerous insect genome projects.  With over 70 years of partnering with the pest control industry, our entomologists have worked hand-in-hand with the EPA to develop application standards and disseminate pesticide information nationally.

Much of Purdue Entomology’s work is done outside the confines of the department walls.  Our education outreach has taken many forms and included a lot of effort from a lot of individuals.  In the 1920s and 1930s Extension Information train tours were conducted, giving way to Extension Chalk Talks by Glen Lehker, beginning in the 30’s and continuing until1972.  The community has seen Symptom Circus and the Bug Scout series of cartoons.  Tom Turpin and Rich Edwards started the Linnaean Games in 1982 and they have been an official national event since 1984.  Bug Bowl, Insectaganza, Butterfly Count, Boiler Bug Barn, Science Theater Outreach Program . . . these activities go on in addition to standard classroom instruction and special group programs.

A culture of teaching excellence and classic textbooks on structural pest management and aquatic entomology authored at Purdue benefit our students.  Outstanding achievements include increased professionalism in the structural pest control industry, development of commercial host plant resistance, establishing national pesticide applicator standards, implementing novel science education outreach, and providing ESA leadership.

With the past as a prologue, our emphasis today includes genomics, urban pest management, field crops and livestock pest management, environmental stewardship, international development, and science education outreach.  Using our history as a guide, Purdue Entomology has many more years of excellence, achievement and worldwide recognition to look forward to.