Silkworm Culture in America

The Literary Digest

The practical investigation of silk culture by the United States Department of Agriculture began as the result of an agitation of the subject dating from the Centennial Exposition of 1876, and was carried on by virtue of specific appropriations by Congress, continuing, practically, from 1884 to June 30, 1891. The experiments, which were conducted on an extensive scale, the work being under the supervision of the division of entomology, established the possibility of raising a most excellent quality of silkworm cocoons over nearly the entire country, but also disclosed the one great obstacle to the industry as a profitable enterprise; namely, the difficulty of finding labor in the United States to compete with the low-priced labor of foreign silk-raising countries in the operation of reeling or converting the cocoons into raw silk. All the later work of the Department has, therefore, been especially directed to efforts to remedy this state of affairs and to equalize by improved machinery the difference in wages between this and foreign countries, thus making it possible for the manufacturer to pay a better price for cocoons.

For years past silk culture has been carried on in a modest manner in various parts of the country. In Utah, for instance, there are a number of people who are raising silkworms from year to year, growing mulberry leaves for their food and actually producing silk and weaving it into cloths for family use. Mrs. Carrie Williams of San Diego, Cal., has been engaged in the industry in a small way for some years past, and Dr. W. H. Hill has at Peoria, Ill., an institution from which over 1,000,000 silkworms are shipped annually.

A great advantage will be enjoyed by the people of the Southern States in the raising of silkworms in view of the inexhaustible supply of leaves of the Osage orange which is available in that section of the country. The Osage-orange leaves have been found to be as good food for silkworms as mulberry leaves, and the silk produced on this diet is of the finest quality. Thus there is removed all possibility of a repetition of the losses which ruined the American silk culture industry during the first half of the last century; and, finally, an abundance of Osage-orange hedges obviates the necessity for any expenditure whatever in cultivation.

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The Value of Alaska
August 7, 1902

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