The transition to synthetic chemicals as a popular method of insect control in the United States was one of the most critical developments in the history of American agriculture. Historians of agriculture have effectively identified the rise and charted the dominance of early chemical insecticides as they came to define commercial agriculture between the emergence of Paris green in the 1870s and the popularity of DDT in the 1940s and beyond. Less understood, however, are the underlying mechanics of this transition. This article thus takes up the basic question of how farmers and entomologists who were once dedicated to an impressively wide range of insect control options ultimately settled on the promise of a chemically driven approach to managing destructive insects. Central to this investigation is an emphasis on the bureaucratic maneuverings of Leland O. Howard, who headed the Bureau of Entomology from 1894 to 1927. Like most entomologists of his era, Howard was theoretically interested in pursuing a wide variety of control methods--biological, chemical, and cultural included. In the end, however, he employed several tactics to streamline the government’s efforts to almost exclusively support arsenic and lead-based chemical insecticides as the most commercially viable form of insect control. While Howard in no way "caused" the national turn to chemicals, this article charts the pivotal role he played in fostering that outcome.

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