Charles Valentine Riley (1843-1895)
September 18 is the birthdate of British-American entomologist Charles Valentine Riley. Riley pioneered the scientific study of insect pests and their impact on agriculture. He founded the US Department of Agriculture’s Division of Entomology and was one of the first to use biological pest control. Oh, he saved the French wine industry, too. He had an unlikely start.
C.V. Riley (as he was usually known) was born in Chelsea, the yuppie section of 19th-century London. His father was a minister, a rising star in the Church of England. At age 11, C.V. was sent to the continent (France, then Germany) to study languages, art, and science. But within a couple of years, his father died and C.V. was brought back to London. His widowed Mum remarried and C.V. was disinherited.
By 17, C.V. Riley was on his way to America to work as a farm labourer on property owned by a British investor who had taken an interest in the young man’s plight. After a few years of grueling farm work, Riley found a job as a reporter and artist for a farm journal, Prairie Farmer. It was 1864 – Riley was 20, drafted into the American Civil War, and released after his compulsory 100 days of service. Riley then went back to the magazine, continuing as an artist and reporter, but taking on the added job of editor of the journal’s bug division. The boy from Chelsea was the Prairie Farmer’s entomology editor.