Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

Early issues of the Engineer reflect a very different world to the one that surrounds us today. With powered flight and the motor car still the stuff of dreams, much of the early editorial is concerned with the latest agricultural developments. Indeed, while members of today’s editorial team can typically be found prowling the corridors of shimmering R&D centres, our Victorian forebears spent much of their time down on the farm admiring the latest plough. And yet, as modern-day consumers increasingly turn against 20th century farming practices and demand pesticide-free organically grown food, here’s an early form of pest control that might just appeal: Morris’ Improved Trap for Beetles and other insects.

The article describes a curious wheeled device equipped with sticky surfaces that can be trundled around a field like a portable fly trap and used to capture whatever tiny creatures might be munching their way through the crops.

The invention consists of a ‘light’ frame made of iron tubes that is supported by two wheels. A number of pieces of canvas are stretched across this frame to form curtains that cover the whole width of the machine. These curtains are coated with ‘a mixture of resin, horse turpentine and oil, of the consistence [sic] of treacle, or with other adhesive chemical preparation’.

According to the article, the frame, which can either be attached to a horse or operated manually, ‘may be elevated or depressed, so as to work in fields sown with turnips or other plants either upon ridges or upon the surface’. ‘By an early application of this implement,’ continues The Engineer, ‘when the beetles or other insects first attack the plants, it preserves the plants from their ravages.’