U. S. Sericulture

Piece dyeing of silk.

Piece dyeing of silk.

This is an excerpt from an article on sericulture that included a brief history of its attempts in the U.S.:

“Sericulture has also been attempted in the United States, but these endeavors have been sporadic and largely unsuccessful. Sericulture was carried on to some extent by the early colonists of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, and was introduced into New England about 1660. In 1831, a manual on sericulture was published by J.H. Cobb, copies of which were purchased by the Congress of the United States for distribution by members. Following publication of this book, there was a determined effort to establish silk culture on a firm basis in the United States. This interest in silk culture soon led to what was known as the “Mormus multicaulis craze.” Anticipating a most profitable investment, if not speedy riches, thousands of individuals purchased mulberry plants of the M. multicaulis species and planted large areas of valuable land. The investments far exceeded possible returns, and heavy frosts destroyed plantations of trees. In the course of a few years, many failures and great disappointments caused so complete a revulsion of feeling that silk culture was practically abandoned all through the States. However, because confederate cotton was unavailable during and shortly after the Civil War, the Union States were forced to seek a new source of fiber. Thus in 1869, Professor L. Trouvelot, an American naturalist, brought eggs of the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar (L.), from France to Massachusetts. Trouvelot had hoped to produce a commercial source of silk by developing a hardy race of silk-producing insects, crossing the gypsy moth with the silkworm moth, in order to control wilt disease (or flancheria) then causing severe problems in some silkworm industries. However, during the course of his experiments, some of the eggs were lost and some of the caterpillars escaped from his home. Although this accident was made public at the time it did not receive much attention even though the gypsy moth was immediately recognized as a pest. Since its introduction into the Boston area over a century ago, the gypsy moth has greatly expanded its range and become one of North America’s most serious forest pests, defoliating large areas of canopy every year.

In spite of these earlier failures at sericulture in the United States, several more attempts at sericulture were made in California from the 1860’s through the early 1900’s. California sericulturists even advocated the commercial rearing of the native ceanothus silk moth, Hyalophara euryalus (Boisduval), as a possible source of silk until Felix Gillet in 1879 showed that the cocoons could not be reeled satisfactorily. Although some silk was produced in California during this time, most sericulture attempts failed and sericulture never became permanently established in the state.”

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