An official website of the United States government.

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you've safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Charles Valentine Riley Collection


The Charles Valentine Riley Collection was received by the National Agricultural Library (NAL) as four separate gifts. The initial collection came from the home of Riley's last surviving child, Cathryn Vedalia Riley, and was donated to NAL in 1978 by the Cathryn Vedalia Riley Trust, Victor John Yannacone, Jr., Trustee. In 1984 Riley's granddaughter, Mrs. Emilie Brash, donated a medal of honor Riley received from the French government for his work on grape disease. In 1985 she presented an 1891 oil portrait of Riley painted by Henry Ulke to Secretary of Agriculture John Block, who transferred the painting to NAL. In 2002, Mrs. Brash donated a bound book of original sketches and watercolors created by Riley in Germany and France between 1856-1859, representing some of his earliest work.

The collection spans the years 1856-1919. It occupies 24 linear feet in 16 archival boxes. In addition, there are paintings, Riley's roll-top desk, wall clock, bookcases, and other artifacts. The collection was arranged and described by Judith J. Ho, NAL Special Collections, and Willie Yuille, University of Maryland, in June 1986. In July 2001, Jennifer Wang, NAL Special Collections, revised the finding aid and reformatted it for web access. In December 2005, Ellen Landon Mann, NAL Special Collections, and Nina Ahmad, NAL Collection Management Branch, revised and edited the finding aid.

Biographical Note

"Professor Riley," as he was generally known, was born in Chelsea, London, England, on September 19, 1843. He attended boarding school at Dieppe, France and Bonn, Germany. Passionately fond of natural history, drawing, and painting, he collected and studied insects and sketched them in pencil and in color. At both Dieppe and Bonn, he won prizes in drawing and was encouraged to pursue art as a career.

At the age of 17, he came to the United States and settled on an Illinois farm about 50 miles from Chicago. Soon his attention was drawn to insect injuries of crops, and he sent accounts of his observations to the Prairie Farmer. At the age of 21, Riley moved to Chicago and worked for this leading agricultural journal as a reporter, artist, and editor of its entomological department. His writings attracted the attention of Benjamin D. Walsh, the Illinois State entomologist. It was through Walsh's influence as well as the recommendation of N .J. Coleman of Coleman's Rural World that Riley was appointed in the spring of 1868 to the newly created office of entomologist of the State of Missouri. From 1868 to 1877, in collaboration with T.W. Harris, B.D. Walsh, and Asa Fitch, Riley published nine annual reports as State Entomologist of Missouri, which unequivocally established his reputation as an eminent entomologist. Today, authorities agree that these nine reports constitute the foundation of modern entomology.

From 1873 to 1877, many Western States and territories were invaded by grasshoppers from the Northwest. In some states their destruction of crops was so serious that it caused starvation among pioneer families. Riley studied this plague and published results in his last three Missouri annual reports and worked to bring it to the attention of Congress. In March 1877, he succeeded in securing passage of a bill creating the United States Entomological Commission, the Grasshopper Commission administered under the Director of the Geological Survey of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Riley was appointed chairman, A.S. Packard, Jr., secretary, and Cyrus Thomas, treasurer.

All this time, Riley, with the help of Otto Lugger, Theodore Pergrande, and others, was also making brilliant contributions to the knowledge of the biology of insects. Besides studying the life cycles of the 13 and 17 year cicadas, he also studied the remarkable Yucca moth and its pollination of the Yucca flower, a matter of special evolutionary interest to Charles Darwin. In addition, he conducted intensive life history studies of blister beetles and their unusual triungulin larvae, and the caprification of the fig.

In the spring of 1878, Townend Glover retired as entomologist to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Riley was appointed his successor. After a year in this position, Riley resigned owing to a disagreement with the Commissioner of Agriculture over Riley's practice of making independent political contacts; he then continued the work of the U.S. Entomological Commission with others, from his home. Two years later, after the inauguration of President James A. Garfield in 1881, Riley was reappointed and remained chief of the Federal Entomological Service until June 1894, when the Service was renamed the Division of Entomology of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1882, Riley gave part of his insect collection to the U.S. National Museum, now The Smithsonian Institution, at which time he was made honorary curator of insects. In 1885, he was appointed assistant curator of the Museum, thus becoming the Museum's first curator of insects, whereupon he gave the Museum his entire insect collection consisting of 115,000 mounted specimens (representing 20,000 species), 2,800 vials, and 3,000 slides of specimens mounted in Canadian balsam.

One of Riley's greatest triumphs while Chief of the Federal Entomological Service was his initiation of efforts to collect parasites and predators of the cottony cushion scale, which was destroying the citrus industry in California. In 1888, he sent Albert Koebele to Australia to collect natural enemies of the scale. A beetle, Vedalia cardinalis, now Rodolia cardinalis, was introduced into California and significantly reduced populations of the cottony cushion scale. This effort gave great impetus to the study of biological control for the reduction of injurious pests and established Charles Valentine Riley as the "Father of the Biological Control." For a review of the cottony cushion scale project, see Doutt, 1958.

A prolific writer and artist, Riley authored over 2,400 publications. He also published two journals, the American Entomologist (1868-80) and Insect Life (1889-94). Riley received many honors during his lifetime. He was decorated by the French Government for his work on the grapevine Phylloxera. He received honorary degrees from Kansas State University and the University of Missouri. He was an honorary member of the Entomological Society of London and founder and first president of the Entomological Society of Washington. He and Dr. L.O. Howard, Riley's assistant in the Federal Entomological Service, were among the founders of the American Association of Economic Entomologists, which became part of Entomological Society of America in 1953.

Tragically, on September 14, 1895 Riley's life was cut short by a fatal bicycle accident. As he was riding rapidly down a hill, the bicycle wheel struck a granite paving block dropped by a wagon. He catapulted to the pavement and fractured his skull. He was carried home on a wagon and never regained consciousness. He died at his home the same day at the age of 52, leaving his wife with six children.

Scope and Content Note

The Charles Valentine Riley Collection includes correspondence, unpublished lectures, photographs, news clippings, drawings, reprints, books, and artifacts covering the time period from 1868 to 1919. Much of the correspondence is original; however, several letters are copies of items held by other institutions. Copies are noted as such in the container list.

The nine series of materials focus on the history of entomology and the development of biological control of insects injurious to crops. In addition to professional papers and documents, the collection includes many personal articles such as family photographs, a wedding announcement, Riley's desk, clock, microscope, books, medals, and drawings, a portrait painted by Henry Ulke, known as the painter of the Presidents, and clippings about Riley's untimely death. Riley's talent and experience as a natural history illustrator is a focus of the collection as well.

Series Description

Series I. Correspondence, 1871-94. 1 box.

This series includes correspondence, chronologically arranged, to C.V. Riley from Charles Darwin, William Saunders (1835-1914), and A.S. Packard (1839-1905), among others. There are also letters from Riley to Henry de Varigny discussing evolution, and to Samuel H. Scudder and others on his resignation and entomological matters.

Series II. Unpublished Lectures, 1868-92. 2 boxes.

Included are lectures given at Columbia University, and addresses to the National Agriculture Congress, Lowell Institute. These are arranged in chronological order.

Series III. Notes, Personal Papers, and Photographs, 1858-93. 1 box.

This series includes Riley's notes describing bees and wasps, fungi, evolution, butterflies and seeds; a manuscript on the natural history of insects; a wedding announcement; Swedish award; architectural designs of Riley's house; memorabilia; photographs of people and insects (some accompanied by negatives); and books with inscriptions written by Riley to his son Willie Garfield Riley; and an autographed copy of de Varigny's Charles Darwin.

Series IV. News clippings, 1874-1901. 0.5 box.

Included are news clippings related primarily to Riley's resignation and death, and some miscellaneous articles on other entomological matters, testimonials, and awards.

Series V. Biographies, 1888-96. 0.5 box. This series includes articles on the life of C.V. Riley from the various newspapers and magazines of his day.

Series VI. Drawings, 1877-80. 0.5 box.

Included in this series are drawings of beetles, wasps, ants, and Yucca moths. All are chronologically arranged.

Series VII. Yucca Study, 1872-94. 0.5 box.

This series contains letters, reports, and drawings related to Riley's study of the pollination of the Yucca plant and the life cycle of the Yucca moths. The materials are arranged in chronological order within each group.

Series VIII. Reports, Reprints, and Books, 1868-1919. 5 boxes.

This series contains the Missouri reports, an atlas, bulletins of the U.S. Entomological Commission, lectures at the National Museum, reprints of articles from magazines of the day. There are some publications after 1900 by Catherine Vedalia Riley, daughter of C.V. Riley.

Series IX. Artifacts, 1873-1905. 4 boxes and various locations.

This series contains medals given to Riley by the French government for his work with the Phylloxera infestation, commemorative medals, photographs of Riley and of his wife, oil painting of Riley by Henry Ulke, and oil paintings of flowers and a boat scene by Mary G. Riley. Includes Riley's desk, bookcases, microscope, knife, folding desk blotter, change purse, leather pouch, address book, rubber stamps, and printing blocks of the cover of American Entomologist.

Page Content Curated By