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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 descent 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 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 started the Virginia Horticultural Society in 1897 as part of an effort to combat the San Jose Scale. This invasive pest threatened to destroy Virginia's entire fruit crop. Alwood's approach was similar to our integrated pest management (IPM) methods of today. He drafted the first crop pest law in the Eastern US. The law established the Virginia Crop Pest Commission, of which Alwood was appointed head and state entomologist. He released a biological control (leaf beetle) through his collaboration with USDA. He conducted some of the first Extension work in Virginia through the Farmer's Institutes -- many of which were associated with train travel and regional  farmer meetings. Alwood traveled over 2,000 miles a year on a bicycle to tour orchards, educate growers, and monitor the control of the San Jose Scale. He quarantined and forced sanitation controls in orchards and nurseries, and applied his extensive knowledge of chemical controls to recover the apple industry in Virginia. He will be forever known as its "savior."

Around 1895, Professor Alwood planted acorns from his native Ohio in the station greenhouse. Those trees, a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) species, were planted outside the old station building located on the approach to what is now Burruss Hall, and in the grove near the President's mansion. Six of the trees have survived. In 2011, a prominent bur oak located across Drillfield Drive from Burruss Hall was dedicated as the "Alwood Oak." Ironically, Alwood had recorded that oak as "Tree #66 -- bur oak" in his photographic inventory of campus trees. Plaques and a memorial were built by the department to honor Professor Alwood. The monument is known as the "Alwood Plaza." It is 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 horticulture department (1902); dean of agriculture at VPI for 40 years.
  • R. H. Price - professor of horticulture and horticulturist to the Texas Agricultural College and Experiment Station (over ten years).
  • William Alphonso Murrill - became director of 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 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 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. Phar. D. George Washington University, 1907.
  • T. G. Woods - M.S. VPI, 1903. Asst. Instructor and Associate in Agricultural, Horticultural and Biological Department, Asst. Commandant, VPI, 1902-08. Director, Agr. and Indus. School, Fourth Congressional District, Cooperative Creamery Assoc., Burkeville, VA, 1908-10. President Agr. Dept., VA State Teachers Assoc., Director, Agr. and Indus. Education, Sixth Congressional District of VA, New London Academy, 1910.

Alwood left Virginia Tech in 1904, but continued to support the university as a leader in viticulture, pomology, and as a prominent fruit grower in Virginia. 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 grape after Professor Alwood. The variety was a table grape similar to the Concord variety and can still be purchased today.

The W. B. Alwood Entomological (student) Society is named after our first entomologist. The Hokie BugFest and the Alwood Extension Award are presented each year in honor of Professor Alwood as a leader 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 on 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-present)

After Grayson, the department went through a series of changes. Leadership included Poe, Paine, Fell, Mack, Kok, and 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 where it has been since 1907 is Price Hall.