The Berkeley entomological collection’s namesake, Dr. Edward Oliver Essig (1884- 1964), was instrumental in the development of both the collection and the entomology program in general. E.O. Essig was born in 1884 in Arcadia, Indiana but moved to Guerneville, California while very young. His father was a farmer and it was this constant close contact with the outdoors that ingrained young Essig with a deep love of nature. The family had little money, but a minister involved in Essig’s early education recognized unusual abilities in the boy and helped to get him into a college preparatory school and eventually into Pomona College in southern California. At Pomona, Essig was strongly influenced by the entomologists A.J. Cook and C.F. Baker, both of whom encouraged him to follow his entomological leanings.
Essig worked his way through college at various jobs, one of which took him to Yellowstone National Park where he collected not only tips as a busboy, but insects as well. Essig received his B.S. in 1909 and continued directly into the graduate program. In his first year as a master’s student, Essig helped to launch the Pomona Journal of Entomology, which largely served as a vehicle for his numerous early publications. His already considerable skills as a homopterist and artist continued to develop during this time. During his graduate career, Essig was appointed Horticultural Commissioner of Ventura County, in which post he assisted in the successful control of Citrus Mealy Bug. In 1911, he took over as Editor-in-Chief of the Monthly Bulletin of the State Commission of Horticulture. Through this outlet he promoted cooperation, unity, and provided leadership, helping to create a strong, integrated agricultural community in California.
In 1914, Dr. Essig was offered an Instructorship in the University of California Division of Entomology. His appointment helped to establish strong links between the University and the private agricultural community. Around this time a former mentor of Dr. Essig’s, Dr. A.J. Cook, predicted that the young professor, along with friend and colleague L.O. Howard, held the future of economic entomology in their hands. In retrospect, we can see that this faith was well-placed; as the development of the field was profoundly influenced by these men.
Dr. Essig progressed through the ranks of assistant (1916), associate (1921) and on to full professorship (1928), meanwhile working to greatly increase the size and scope of the University of California entomology program. He developed a course in plant nematology as well as the first university course in insect pathology. In the 1930s, the local entomological community began to discuss the need for large-scale studies of the basic biologies and distributions of North American, and particularly Californian, insects. Essig was a part of this movement and took the lead in establishing such a program at Berkeley, formalized in 1940 as a project in the Agricultural Experiment Station called the California Insect Survey. It is largely through the CIS that the collection now bearing Essig’s name achieved its development.
Professor Essig was well-loved as a teacher and mentor, generally developing close personal relationships with students under his guidance. He was uncommonly accessible, respectful and encouraging and was a great believer in promoting students’ abilities to think independently. Many efforts were made to constantly improve the quality of instruction in the Division. Essig was responsible for developing a collection of literally thousands of Riker mounts of California insects for the purposes of instruction. Essig’s list of students reads like a Who’s Who of twentieth century entomology: Charles Michener, J. Linsley Gressitt, E. Gorton Linsley, Robert Usinger, Mont Cazier, Edward Ross, Hugh Leech, P. deBach, L.R. Jeppson, Dilworth Jensen, Richard and G.E. Bohart, W.C. Reeves, F.W. Baker, and many more. Professor Essig was also very encouraging of foreign students, hosting and advising students from India, the Philippines, and Turkey among others.
Professor Essig’s entomological research contributions are chronicled in over 500 publications. The subject matter is exceedingly diverse ranging from systematics and economic entomology to ecology, plant pathology and apiculture. He had a strong interest in the history of his science, and his text, A History of Entomology, first published in 1931, is still one of the most widely read books on entomology in existence. His large works also included Insects of Western North America, Injurious and Beneficial Insects of California, (first published while Essig was a Master’s student) and College Entomology, all of which are still widely used. It is fitting that Essig’s first and last published works dealt with Aphididae. He regretted not being able to spend as much time with aphids as he would have liked.
Entomological studies, however, do not tell the whole story. Dr. Essig was also a devout horticulturist and made significant contributions to the fields of iris, peony, and fuchsia breeding; his checklist of world fuchsia species and cultivars (1936) was considered the most important work on the group to that time. He was also dedicated to photography, non-entomological history, book collecting, and local government.
Essig, E.O. 1909. Aphididae of Southern California. Pomona Journal of Entomology 1(1):1-10.
Essig, E.O. 1913. Injurious and Beneficial Insects of California. California State Commission of Horticulture Monthly Bulletin 2(1-2): 1-351.
Essig, E.O. 1926. Insects of Western North America. The MacMillan Company, N.Y. 1035 pp.
Essig, E.O. 1931. A History of Entomology. The MacMillan Company, N.Y. 1029 pp.
Essig, E.O. 1936. A Check-list of Fuchsias. American Fuchsia Society, 23 pp.
Essig, E.O. 1942. College Entomology. The MacMillan Company, N.Y. 900 pp.
see also: Michelbacher, A.E. and R.F. Smith. 1965. Edward Oliver Essig and the Bibliography of E.O. Essig and Insects Named by Him. Pan-Pacific Entomologist 41(4): 207-258