Editor Popular Science Monthly:
Those who have watched with interest the struggle to introduce the culture of silk into the United States, and noted the many failures of those engaged in the work, must feel that, if anything is to be done in silk-culture in this country, new methods must be tried. The old plan of urging women to undertake the work in addition to whatever they may be doing seems in every way impracticable! The "New York Tribune," in July, 1885, in dealing with the subject, says: "It is by no means clear that silk-culture holds out any trustworthy prospect to American women. . . . It has been tried pretty thoroughly in California. At Sacramento and San Jose cocooneries were established, but, though the experimenters in these places had the advantages of an unequaled climate and Chinese cheap labor, they failed, and failed signally. At intervals similar attempts have been made in other States, but the end has always been the same. . . . The raising of silk-worms involves a minute and incessant labor, such as Orientals appear to be alone thoroughly fitted for, and it is not at all adapted to the capacities of American women."
Despite discouragements and failures the Department of Agriculture at Washington still continues to distribute silk-worm eggs, and in the last annual report for the year 1887 it is suggested by Mr. Philip Walker, the agent in charge, that neighbors might save expense, and realize more for their work, by joining together in the use of one hibernating box, one incubator, and one stifling apparatus. It is thought that the interest has been more active this year in the United States than in the year before, and that progress has been made. The only instance given, however, is that of a woman living in Johnson County, Mo., who, assisted by her mother and four children, tried the experiment for two years, receiving for the cocoons $77.90, which, after deducting her expenses, which amounted to $20, left her $57.90 to show for the labor of six people for two years! Certainly not a very profitable occupation, and, judging by this example alone, not one that would offer special inducements to any one that had the slightest idea of the care and work required to raise even a few ounces of eggs. To be sure, the actual time consumed in the care of the worms could not have been more than six weeks of each year; bat would not almost any other occupation have paid better than this?
I am indebted to Mr. Edward Atkinson for the fact that, in the year 1886 alone, the United States imported 16,092,583 dozen eggs, amounting to $2,173,454, and the same year imported 1,937,416 bushels of potatoes, at the cost of $649,009. Now, when it is considered that millions of dollars are expended every year for articles which might as well be raised in this country, does it not seem that it would be better for the Government to help along the industries already started here, and leave silk-culture in the hands of those who have successfully carried on the business for years, and who feel well paid at receiving for their work what to an American would seem only a mere pittance?
Mr. John D. Cutter writes in the "Boston Post" for November 10, 1886, as follows: "As an amusement, silk-culture is all right; as a business, it is impossible, for a generation or two to come, or until we are so crowded in the struggle for life that we can do no better for ourselves than to compete with the Chinese for bare existence. . . . No occupation of any civilized or half-civilized people pays its laborers so little as silk-culture. It is the very last employment of humanity this side of starvation. The reason is patent to any one who will look for it; viz., in this industry the competition is with the Chinese, and the product is of such enormous value in proportion to its bulk and weight that distance is no protection to the producer, because raw silk can be carried around the world for one per cent of its value. . . . Silk-culture is no experiment, even in this country; it simply don't pay a people who want to earn more than one cent per hour."
Light and profitable as the work of raising silk-worms is said to be, there are from the very outset risks connected with it. If the eggs are hatched too early in the season, there is danger of late frosts killing the mulberry-leaves, thereby depriving the worms of their food; the worms are easily affected by changes in the atmosphere, and all through the season there is danger of disease; and provided everything goes well, and one is able to sell the cocoons, the price given for them is small compensation for the time and trouble expended, and if, as is so often the case, the cocoons are pronounced worthless, there is nothing to show for the weeks of incessant labor. Many other experiences might be cited to show the absurdity of encouraging competition with the pauper labor of other countries.
|Margarette W. Brooks,|
|Salem, Mass., December, 26, 1888.|
Editor Popular Science Monthly:
No article, perhaps, that has lately appeared in print has called out a more decided difference of opinion than the one entitled