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Department of Entomology History

VAMC Entomological Lab, 1890
VAMC Entomological Lab, 1890
Celebrate the Legacy of Entomology at Virginia Tech

Entomology at Virginia Tech preceeded the dedicated department we see today. Insects were part of the curriculum and research activities at the tiny Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in the 1870s. Our first entomologist, William Bradford Alwood, started in 1888. Alwood was head of the departments affilated with entomology during his tenure (1888-1904).

Entomology department affiliations at Virginia Tech:

  • Department of Botany and Entomology (1889-1890)
  • Department of Horticulture, Entomology & Mycology (1891-1902)
  • Department of Mycology & Entomology (1902-1904)
  • Department of Biology (1904-1925)
  • Department of Zoology & Animal Pathology (1925-1935)
  • Department of Biology (1935-1959)
  • Department of Entomology (1959-present)
VAMC Faculty, 1870

Mason Graham Ellezy, M.D. was appointed professor of natural history and analytical chemistry in February 1873. A descendent of George Mason, Professor Ellezy was a biologist, medical doctor, and confederate war veteran. He was trained at the University of Virginia and VMI. Ellzey collaborated with Charles Valentine Riley, one of America's prominent pioneer entomologists. Dr. Riley was USDA's lead entomologist during this era. Ellzey was cited in the first USDA Entomology report, "Insect Life" in 1888 as providing butterfly specimens to Riley. Ellezy had a hand in creating the Virginia Tech Insect Collection. Specimens in the collection today date to his era.

William Bradford Alwood, 1888

In 1888, an assistant to Dr. Riley, left his post at USDA to become Virginia Tech's first dedicated entomologist. William Bradford Alwood created the base for which the entomology department exists today. During his 16-year tenure, Professor Alwood headed the department of horticulture, entomology, and mycology. In 1902, that department split, with Alwood heading entomology and mycology.

During his tenure, Professor Alwood authored over 60 significant publications in disciplines associated with pest management. His work and his association with USDA established Alwood as one of the pioneer entomologists during the early era of the agricultural experiment stations in America. Alwood was credited by Harvey Price (in, Young, Harold Newell. 1975. The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, 1886-1966. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville. 221 pp.) as starting formal agricultural research at Virginia Tech. No one in college leadership at the time was experienced with organizing an experiment station or its research. When Alwood came to Virginia Tech in 1888 he arrived with this experience. He was credited with organizing and supervising the organization of the Ohio State University agricultural experiment station. Over his career, he organized and published research in association with Ohio State, USDA, and Virginia Tech.

In 1896, Professor Alwood entered into a cooperative agreement with the USDA Forestry Division to study climatic effects on several common species of forest trees grown from seed collected over a wide area of the country. The plan was to collect the seeds of each species from a number of different locations and have each state enter into cooperative tests, planting portions of the same under identical conditions for comparison. That plan, in part, fell through, after few states responded to Alwood’s proposal. After two years the work was discontinued and with permission of the USDA, Alwood published the results in Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin Number 88 in May 1898. The title of the publication was “Growing Forest Tree Seedlings.”

Reported in the work was the planting of bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) seed obtained from Vermont, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. The bur oak seeds germinated from May to June of 1897. From seedlings stratified and germinated in the greenhouse, Alwood planted 10 seedlings from each state (40 seedlings) in an outside nursery on the station. Besides some frost damage, the seedlings grew slowly. Alwood recommended the bur oak seedlings be transplanted to their final location within two years to avoid damaging themselves due to extensive root growth. A bur oak can generate as many as 30 inches of tap roots during its early years.

Alwood reported a considerable number of forest and ornamental trees (from the study) were planted on the campus and where a forest belt was desired on the Station. Other species planted included walnut, chestnut, hackberry, honey locust, green ash, and white ash.

Two of the bur oaks are still alive today (2022). One is located in the Grove around the university President’s home. Another, planted outside the old station building formerly located on the approach to what is now Burruss Hall (1936), is the prominent oak on the Drillfield today. In 2011, that bur oak was dedicated as the " Alwood Oak." Ironically, Alwood had recorded the oak as " Tree #66 -- bur oak" in his photographic inventory of campus trees. Plaques and a memorial were located near the tree, by the department, to honor Professor Alwood. The monument, known as the " Alwood Plaza," was built and dedicated in 2012. It was designed for the public to sit and view the oak and enjoy this prominent location on campus.

Professor Alwood mentored and taught some of Virginia Tech's first graduate students. They went on to serve as entomologists, horticulturists, and mycologists. 

Alwood's Notable Student Advisees (15 graduate students; many undergraduate students, including Julian Burruss, President of VPI, 1919 to 1945).

  • Harvey Lee Price - became Alwood's assistant, head of the horticulture department (1902); dean of agriculture at VPI for 40 years.
  • R. H. Price - professor of horticulture and horticulturist at the Texas Agricultural College and Experiment Station (over ten years).
  • William Alphonso Murrill - became director of the New York Botanical Garden. First to identify the fungus causing the Chestnut blight epiphytotic in North America.
  • William M. Scott - became state entomologist and pathologist of Georgia; USDA plant pathologist, Bureau of Plant Industry, Washington, DC.
  • William A. P. Moncure - became an instructor of mycology and mycologist at VPI and Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (1903-1908).
  •  J. F. Strauss - USDA entomologist working with fruit insects.
  •  J. L. Phillips - became Alwood's assistant, and state entomologist of Virginia.
  • A. A. Girault - USDA entomologist, worked with the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC on parasitic wasps and sawflies.
  • Harper Dean, Jr., - Assistant state entomologist of Georgia, subsequently of Louisiana, and eventually first assistant state entomologist of Virginia.
  • W. J. Price - Assistant state entomologist of Virginia.
  • E. E. Cole - USDA agent.
  • J. F. Chapman - USDA agent.
  • C. C. Chase - Assistant state entomologist of Georgia.
  • A. H. Rosenfield - Assistant state entomologist of Illinois, USDA, and first assistant entomologist of Louisiana.
  • Julian Ashby Burruss - became president of State Normal and Industrial School for Women (now, James Madison University) (1908-1919); president of VPI (1919-1945).
  • C. P. Miles - Coach of the 1905 VPI football team, which lost only one game to Navy 12-6, still ranks as one of Tech’s all-time greats. Miles’ most important contributions were in the foundation and direction of the Virginia Tech Athletic Association and of the Southern Conference, of which he was the first president. Miles Stadium, where Tech played its intercollegiate football games from 1929-64 was named in his honor and it was Miles who initiated scholarship assistance to deserving athletes at Virginia Tech.
  • J. T. Keister - Assistant chemist. USDA Bureau of Chemistry - 1903-10. M. S. VPI, 1903. Pharm. D. George Washington University, 1907.
  • T. G. Woods - M.S., VPI, 1903. Assistant instructor and associate in Agricultural, Horticultural, and Biological Department, Assistant Commandant, VPI, 1902-08. Director, Agricultural and Industrial School, Fourth Congressional District, Cooperative Creamery Association, Burkeville, VA, 1908-10. President Agriculture Department, Virginia State Teachers Association, Director, Agricultural and Industrial Education, Sixth Congressional District of Virginia, New London Academy, 1910.

Alwood left Virginia Tech in 1904. He continued to support the university as a leader in viticulture and pomology, and as a prominent Virginia fruit grower and leader. In 1923, VPI honored Alwood with the VPI Certificate of Merit. In 1927, Alwood donated his very large pest management, entomology, and horticulture book collection to the university. This significant contribution proved a valuable addition to the library for years to come. Even today books signed by Alwood can be found in the library collection. His most prominent donations are protected as part of the Newman Library Special Collections archive.

In 1966, the horticulture department named a variety of grapes after Professor Alwood. The Alwood variety was a table grape similar to the Concord variety and is still being sold today.

The W. B. Alwood Entomological (student) Society was named in honor of Professor Alwood. The society has contributed to thousands of outreach events and students over the years. The Hokie BugFest (2011) and the Alwood Extension Award (2012) are presented each year to honor his leadership in outreach, research, and teaching in the early days of our discipline at Virginia Tech.

After Professor Alwood left Virginia Tech, the designation of entomology in the name of a department essentially disappeared into obscurity. From 1904 to 1959, the discipline continued under the department of biology. The agricultural experiment station also contributed a great deal to the survival of entomology. There was a number of very talented entomologists who worked for the station during this era. Many continued the work of Professor Alwood.

Here is a list of entomologists during this era:

  • Ellison A. Smyth (1891-1925)
  • W. R. Karr (1897-1898)
  • W. M. Scott (1897-1898)
  • J. L. Phillips (1899-1910)
  • H. L. Price (1899-1900)
  • W. J. Phillips (1903-1914)
  • J. C. Stiles (1904-1909)
  • W. J. Price, Jr. (1905-1918)
  • E. A. Back (1910-1912)
  • W. J. Schoen (1913-1956)
  • M. T. Smulyan (1915-1916)
  • L. A. Stearns (1918-1924)
  • G. W. Underhill (1918-1953)
  • C. R. Willey (1920-1926)
  • W. S. Hough (1921-1963)
  • L. R. Cagle (1924-1964)
  • A. M. Woodside (1927-1970)
  • Marvin L. Bobb (1933-1973)
  • R. N. Jefferson (1934-1946)
  • J. A. Cox (1936-1945)
  • James McDonald Grayson (1937-1979)
  • L. A. Hetrick (1938-1945)
  • C. B. Dominick (1939-1975)
  • E. H. Glass (1940-1942)
  • M. J. Janes (1944-1946)
  • W. D. Fronk (1945-1948)
  • John O. Rowell (1945-1970)
  • Clarence H. Hill (1946-1980)
  • Richard N. Hofmaster (1947-1974)
  • John M. Amos (1949-1970)
  • W. H. Howe (1951-1953)
  • T. B. Davich (1953-1956)
  • E. Craig Turner, Jr. (1953-1992)
  • A. P. Morris (1954-1960)
  • A. A. Muka (1954-1956)
  • E. M. Raffensperger (1955-1961)
  • W. G. Evans (1956-1958)
  • G. M. Boush (1957-1965)
  • Donald G. Cochran (1957-1995)
  • J. L. Bishop (1958-1967)
James Grayson, Father of Today's VT Entomology Department
Dr. James McDonald Grayson, father of today's Virginia Tech Department of Entomology.

In 1959, a dedicated department of entomology was established through the leadership of Dr. James Grayson. Dr. Grayson headed that department for over 20 years. He and Alwood are prominent as the "shoulders on which we stand" today as a department at Virginia Tech.

Entomologists during the Grayson Era:

  • Mary H. Ross (1959-1997)
  • W. A. Tarpley (1960-1965)
  • Robert L. Pienkowski (1961-1995)
  • Michael Kosztarab (1962-1993)
  • H. M. Kulman (1962-1966)
  • G. C. Rock (1963-1967)
  • S. D. Carlson (1965-1969)
  • O. W. Isakson (1965-1967)
  • John C. Smith (1965-1989)
  • H. Jack Heikkenen (1967-1991)
  • Rodney D. Hendrick (1967-1972)
  • John A. Weidhaas (1967-1990)
  • William A. Allen (1968-1983)
  • Ralph A. Alls (?-1969)
  • John L. Eaton (1969-1998)
  • James E. Roberts (1969-1989)
  • C. I. Rose (1969-1969)
  • William H. Robinson (1970-1998)
  • Loke T. Kok (1972-2016)
  • Donald E. Mullins (1973-2015)
  • Robert L. Horsburgh (1974-1994)
  • Paul J. Semptner (1974-2014)
  • J. Reese Voshell, Jr. (1976-2014)
  • R. M. McPherson (1978-1987)
  • Richard D. Fell (1979-2015)
  • Peter B. Schultz (1979-2017)


After Grayson, the department went through a series of changes. Leadership included Poe, Paine, Fell, Mack, Kok, and today, Dr. Kring. The department has grow, has added a strong molecular research component, international service, and increased student numbers. Entomology is spread out among three buildings on campus. The primary location is Price Hall - a location where it has been since the building's dedication in 1907. 

Written by m.j. weaver, 2022; the section on W. B. Alwood is copywritten under Weaver's biography of the professor, 2022.