Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

General Assembly Establishes the Natural History Survey

News Bulletin (1917) - The State's General Assembly creates the Illinois Natural History Survey by combining the State Laboratory of Natural History and the Office of State Entomologist. Stephen A. Forbes is appointed Chief.


Entomological history in Illinois formally began with the establishment of the Office of the State Entomologist in 1867 and the appointments of Benjamin D. Walsh (1867 - 1869), William LeBaron (1870 - 1875), Cyrus Thomas (1875 - 1882), and Stephen A. Forbes (1882 - 1917) as state entomologists. They were often progressive in their endeavors. Walsh was aware of the implications of biological control as one of the most effectual means of insect control. LeBaron recognized the importance of providing educational materials to assist students in their studies of entomology. Forbes encouraged the use of pathogens and parasites to control the chinch bug and European corn borers, respectively.

Forbes provided significant leadership in developing the scientific, economic, and educational facets of entomology in Illinois. He had been curator of the State Natural History Society's museum at the Illinois State Normal University for five years when the State Natural History Museum was created in Springfield in 1877. At this time the museum at Normal became the State Laboratory of Natural History. Under Forbes' leadership the State Laboratory was given the responsibility of providing materials for the new Natural History Museum and other educational institutions, as well as carrying out plant and animal surveys.


When Forbes accepted the additional assignment of State Entomologist in 1882, he made no distinction between the duties of each office. Forbes had his own definition of a survey. It involved a great deal more than a mere plant and animal census or the publication of lists showing their distribution. Instead, he felt that such studies should be sufficiently broad to include the relationship between living organisms and their environment. His published bulletins of the State Laboratory of Natural History were educational and of value in maintaining good public relations with various interest groups including the state legislators. For the purpose of providing practical information, Forbes distributed circulars to farmers and fruit growers throughout the state to put his office in immediate communication with those wanting information and advice regarding injurious insects.

The trustees of the newly formed Illinois Industrial University at Champaign-Urbana recognized the importance of the state entomologists and the natural history program at Normal. In 1874, they offered Forbes a faculty position to teach zoology and entomology at an annually salary of $2,000. Forbes accepted with the condition that he could continue his duties as State Entomologist and that the State Laboratory at Normal would be moved to Champaign-Urbana under his leadership. The General Assembly approved the move in 1885. The presences of the State Laboratory at Champaign-Urbana and its publications added prestige to the university. As a result of the Hatch Act of 1887, an agricultural experiment station was established at Urbana. Experiment station investigators frequently worked in cooperation with the State Laboratory of Natural History. One of the earliest examples of cooperative research dealt with chinch bug control. Even at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the 3,000-square-foot State Laboratory exhibit was adjacent to the experiment station and College of Agriculture exhibits. Collaboration among them still exists today.


In 1917, the State Laboratory of Natural History and the Office of the State Entomologist were combined by action of the General Assembly to create the present day Illinois Natural History Survey with Forbes appointed as Chief. He held this position until his death in 1930. The reorganization transferred a number of the State Entomologist duties to the Illinois Department of Agriculture while the research functions were placed with the newly created Natural History Survey.

Flint in the Field. 1929.

During Forbes' leadership, there appears to have been no formal administration organization, however, Wesley P. Flint held the title of Chief Entomologist. It is not clear when the Section of Economic Entomology was established, but it was clearly in place by 1935. A 1931 quarterly report to the Board of Natural Resources and Conservation mentions an Entomology Section that included both economic entomology and systematic entomology with Flint and H. H. Ross as co-leaders. By 1935 the systematic investigations were placed in the Section of Insect Survey with Ross as leader (forerunner of the Section of Faunisitics and the present Center for Biodiversity). Leadership of Economic Entomology following Flint's death in 1943 was provided by George C. Decker, Entomologist/Head (1944 - 1965), William H. Luckmann, Head (1965 - 1984), William G. Ruesink, Head/Director (1984 - 1990), Michael E. Irwin, Director (1990 - 1993), Edward J. Armbrust, Director (1993 - 2001), Robert N. Wiedenmann, Director (2001 - 2005), and Leellen F. Solter, Director/Research Leader (2005 - present). Sue Watkins provided secretarial assistance to the entomology leadership for a portion of Flint's tenure through a portion of Luckmann's tenure from 1943 to 1975.

Decker came to the Survey in 1944 from Iowa State University to fill the position left vacant by Flint's untimely death due to a heart attack while on the job. Decker's official title was simply Entomologist until 1947 when the Survey instigated a new system of titles after which his title was Entomologist/Head. Staff already on the payroll provided leadership for Economic Entomology following Decker's retirement in 1967. A reorganization of the Survey in 1989 changed the name of the Section of Economic Entomology to the Center for Economic Entomology. Leadership titles were changed from Head to Director. A reorganization of the Survey in 1989 changed the name of the Section of Economic Entomology to the Center for Economic Entomology. Leadership titles were changed from Head to Director. During a subsequent reorganization in 2004, the Center retained its CEE acronym but changed its name to the Center for Ecological Entomology. In 2006, Ecological Entomology became a Section in the Division of Biodiversity and Ecological Entomology and Section leaders became Research Leaders. In July 2008, the Illinois Natural History Survey joined its sister organizations to become the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


During Luckmann's tenure, the University formally recognized the long-standing collaborative nature of the Survey's Section of Economic Entomology with the College of Agriculture, the Illinois Experiment Station, and the Illinois Cooperative Extension Service by establishing the Office of Agricultural Entomology in 1965. The Survey's leader of Economic Entomology through partial-paid university appointments and supporting funds provided leadership for the college office. The college support provided an infrastructure that enabled Economic Entomology to fulfill its entomological research and extension activities for the College of Agriculture. In 1996 the college reorganized its administrative structure disbanding the Office of Agricultural Entomology and moved their university-paid extension and research staff to the Departments of Crop Sciences and Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. The long-standing cooperative research among Survey and University entomologists continues through affiliate-type appointments of Survey staff in various University departments. In addition, during Ruesink's tenure Survey entomologists were granted appointments within the University's Graduate College providing an opportunity for graduate student advising of research projects. Irwin, Armbrust, and subsequent leaders have continued to foster cooperative research among Survey and University entomologists and supported the expansion of graduate research as a Survey activity.

Facilities for the Section for Ecological Entomology are located in several buildings on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Members of the Section for Ecological Entomology strive for excellence in all aspects of their work. Recognition for special professional achievements have often been granted by their peers, expertise recognition by appointments to special committees in national societies and federal agencies, and research excellence recognition by successfully obtaining grants and contracts from external funding agencies.

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

Terms of use. Email the Web Administrator with questions or comments.

© 2021 University of Illinois Board of Trustees. All rights reserved.
For permissions information, contact the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Staff Intranet