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Grasshoppers and Concussion

The columns of The Nebraska Farmer in 1877 were filled with conflicting advice on fighting grasshoppers. The May 1877 issue included a letter from Nebraskan George Wells, who wrote to debunk the theory of an earlier correspondent: "In the March number of your Magazine a Mr. [L. A.] Hardee of Florida, published a communication in reference to the destruction of grasshoppers by concussion.

"He stated that he believed that one hundred pounds of gunpowder exploded four feet under ground would destroy the eggs of the insect for a distance of twelve miles in every direction from the point of explosion. Some of the gentlemen of this locality seeing the article referred to, concluded to test the theory. They placed a twenty-five pound keg of gunpowder four feet under ground and packed the earth thoroughly around it, and on the top of the ground above the blast they placed a large water-wheel, weighing about one thousand pounds, so as to confine the force of the powder as much as possible.

"I am happy to state that the experiment was eminently successful. The powder was exploded. The water-wheel was hurled one hundred feet into the air, and the concussion resulting from the striking of the wheel against the ground killed all the grasshoppers' eggs that it struck when it fell. I did not notice that the eggs were affected anywhere else, as they are hatching in immense numbers within fifty feet of the place of explosion; but it is positively certain that those where the wheel lit were badly demoralized.

"I notice also that Mr. Hardee has his plan before the Senate Committee of Agriculture. I would suggest to that committee, that if in connection with this gunpowder theory the government would furnish water-wheels enough the grasshopper question might be permanently settled. The only trouble would be that the plan might be considered slightly expensive.

"I am informed that the hoppers do not lay their eggs in the clay soil. Now would it not be a good idea to cover the whole surface of Nebraska with clay, say six inches thick. I submit that my remedy is much more efficacious and fully as sensible as that of your Florida correspondent. Now to lay all joking aside, I merely wish to state that the concussion theory is a humbug, as well as every other theory so far broached in reference to the hoppers, either by scientific men or fools; and the question still remains, What shall be done to stay the great destroyer?"

(April 2008)



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