This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
Let any one who doubts this consider the dairy work and similar industries, and try to calculate how much per diem the women thus occupied at home gain in money. It may be said with entire accuracy that, as a rule, anything in which the women can engage at home, by which something may be earned, will in general be regarded as net profit through out many sections of the land. In the silk districts of Europe, agricultural machinery is very much less employed than with us, and in general every woman who can possibly be spared from other work is a field laborer and valuable as such. So that time taken for raising silk must be deducted from her other productive work and charged to the cost of the silk crop. I think that there can be no doubt that this one fact is quite sufficient to make the question of the cost of caring for the worms really as much in favor of the United States as at first glance it appears to be the other way; it being the case that in our country many who would be glad to do the work have spare time to give to it, whereas in Europe every hour that is given to silk worms would otherwise be spent in the field.
In the South there are very large masses of inhabitants who are unable to work in the fields, both men and women, and who would also find in a yearly crop of silk worms a very comfortable addition to their yearly gains, and one which could be derived from time not otherwise convertible into money. Land is very much dearer, and taxes are higher in the European silk districts than with us, and every little crop of cocoons has to pay its share, which adds a considerable percentage to its cost.
The buildings possessed by peasants and used for the raising of silk worms are, in general, small, close, and miserable. Throughout America the roomy barns which are empty at the cocoon season, will, with little preparation, be much preferable, and enable the raisers to work to very much better advantage.
In Europe diseases of several kinds have become more or less prevalent, and in some cases have diminished the production of whole districts.
Notwithstanding the fact that many experiments have been made in America, and in Georgia particularly, and silk has been raised continuously for over a century, these diseases (maladies des vers a soile) have never made their appearance.
The people of our country are, as a rule, much better educated than those in Southern France and Italy, and will undoubtedly use their intelligence in such a way as to derive a benefit from it, and economize their labor by proper appliances, etc.
Taking all these facts into consideration, I am convinced that that there will be no difficulty in raising cocoons for the same cost in labor in the United States as in Europe, and I am inclined to think that the work can be much more cheaply done.
It is true that the United States is not an especially good market for cocoons; in fact up to this time there has been scarcely any market at all for them; but with the organization of the industry and the introduction of reeling machinery, the market will be at least as good there as elsewhere. As to whether it will be "worth while" for our people to raise silk worms, I would say that though the amount of money to be paid by any one family is certainly not very large, it is nearly all clear profit, and under the circumstances which I have above pointed out, and which exist so generally, I am sure that the sum to be realized will be regarded as very important by a vast number of people. As in other points, it is extremely difficult to make any exact estimates on such a subject which would be generally applicable to a country so large and so various in climate, soil, and social habit as ours. I am inclined to think, however, that were the members of an average family, under average circumstances, to raise a crop of cocoons, the amount which could be advantageously reared should produce, according to circumstances, from seventy-five to two hundred dollars. Scarcely any "paying" result can be hoped for, however, without more or less organization of the work, as sericulture is an industry which is very sensitive to the evils of a want of proper co-operation among those who carry on its various processes. After some reflection, I am of the opinion that individual growers will have great difficulty in selling cocoons if they are isolated from others, and I therefore doubt the wisdom of encouraging sporadic and ill-directed efforts, which, however well meant and earnestly pursued, are much more apt to end in disappointment, discouragement, and discredit to the newly developing industry than in anything else. It seems to me to be neither wise nor fair to furnish estimates of returns, which presuppose an organization of the industry, without mentioning the difficulties which must be encountered where the organization is lacking. The great difficulty is in selling the cocoons after they are raised, and this can only be practically overcome by such a development of the culture as will result in the production, within the limits of a given neighborhood, of sufficient quantities of cocoons to make it practicable to prepare and forward them to market. It is as well known as any other fact in trade, that small transactions are much more costly in proportion than large ones, and this general rule is especially applicable to the cocoon market. The product of two or three isolated families in the interior of our country could not be marketed to advantage. Whereas, were several hundreds engaged on the work in the same vicinity the charge of marketing their joint crop would be only a small percentage of its value.
Silk raising is the work of an organized people, and before it can become successful in our country must possess proper channels for its trade, just as much as wool, or cotton, or wheat. The machinery of this organization, however, need not be either complicated or expensive. What is required is a system of nuclei in towns or large villages, which may serve as centers of information and as gathering receptacles for the crops of surrounding producers.
The details of organization must be left, and I think may safely be left to the good sense of the people of different sections, who will work out the problem in different ways, according to their different circumstances. Even were the need of organization not made evident to those undertaking sericulture in the beginning, it would soon become so, as it has, in fact, in several parts of the country. I have therefore deemed it proper to call attention to this matter, on the principle that a "stitch in time saves nine." I am informed that there exist already in the United States several associations devoted to acquiring and disseminating knowledge of the art of sericulture. This is a very great step in the right direction, and cannot be too heartily commended. If conducted with prudence and wisdom these societies will be of great service, and I would respectfully suggest that any encouragement which the government may think proper to afford would in all probability be extremely useful and profitable to the country in the future. Provided, always, that such societies are really devoted to the dissemination of information and the careful organization of the industry, and are not merely visionary and impractical cultivators of misapplied enthusiasm.
It would, I think, be of importance so far as possible, to direct the attention of county and State agricultural societies, "village improvement clubs," and in general the intelligent and careful portion of our rural population to this matter. It is beyond doubt that the time when sericulture can be begun and carried on profitably in our country has arrived. Its successful introduction would result in a very important yearly revenue and increase in the public wealth, for I think that within a comparatively few years it could be made to be worth at least fifty or sixty millions of dollars per annum, and perhaps much more. This, however, is a less advantage than the fact that by supplying a new home industry it would do much toward conserving home ties and interests, and thereby help to strengthen and perpetuate good morals and home living among our people.