As Rensselaer approaches its 200th year, the Institute is highlighting important milestones of how the world has been transformed by the achievements of Rensselaer people—past and present. Inside Rensselaer will showcase some of the remarkable achievements and anniversaries throughout the year, including notable milestones and alumni and alumnae accomplishments.
160th Anniversary: Asa Fitch Named New York State’s First Entomologist
Considered America’s greatest early entomologist, Asa Fitch, Class of 1827 and a member of the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame, studied both natural history and medicine, but eventually gave up the practice of medicine to devote his full attention to his interests in agriculture and insects. He made early studies of various grain insects and began to publish his findings in agricultural journals.
He was employed to collect and name the insects of New York state in 1838 and was appointed the state’s first entomologist in 1854. In this position Fitch helped define the role for the scientist in solving public problems, such as crop damage caused by insects.
His annual reports became standard reading for entomologists and agriculturists and he corresponded with scientific leaders throughout the United States and Europe. Many of his notebooks are now the property of the Smithsonian Institution.
Fitch was also a chronicler of life at Rensselaer, including trips on the Erie Canal with founding professor Amos Eaton.