Harold Compere
Harold Compere
Harold Compere
Photos Courtesy of Ann Gaul

Harold Compere
"A group from Calif."
Handwritten legend on back of photo

2119 P. O. ???
Photo Courtesy of Ann Gaul

The Saga of Alessandro Aviation Field
Later Redesignated to March Field
in honor of Lt Peyton C. March, Jr.,
who died following a training crash in Texas.
Cadet Harold Compere was the first pilot to land on the field.
You can read the whole story by clicking on:
Harold Compere

Harold Compere
Harold Compere on Bonnie Brae
March, 1974
Photo Courtesy of Ann Gaul

Press-Enterprise Home & Garden editor
Sunday, June 27, 1976

     "Harold Compere, internationally known taxonomist on parasitic Chalcidoidea, expert biologist and biological control historian. Born in 1896 on Washington Boulevard near Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles. A school dropout. You'd never believe it!"
     This description was written by Lorene Sisson, who used to work in the late and great Harry Scott Smith's old office of the Biological Control Division at the Citrus Experiment Station, Riverside.
     My father, a citrus man, had mentioned Compere when we used to pass the old County Insectary on what was then Chase Drive. "He's the one who hunts for good bugs to fight the bad bugs," said Dad.
     Years later, I would find delightfully exotic plants in Bob and Marian Dixon's garden. The plants were grown from cutting from Compere's yard.
     I MENTIONED an out of print book once, and Harold Compere and his late wife Joan came to call. George Compere had been born in Davenport, Iowa in 1858, and had come to California at an early age. At the age of 20 he was put in charge of a large orchard in Los Angeles.
     The orchard was seriously infested with black scale, as were many groves in Southern California, and little was known of insecticides, and less about how to fight the scale.
     Harold told of his father becoming an inspector for the Los Angeles County Board of Horticultural Commissioner in 1891, a job that showed more fully how serious were the insect pests so harmful to the new citrus industry, and to other plants from many foreign lands imported to the southern part of the state.
     In 1898 George Compere accepted a position in Hawaii in search for insects in foreign countries. Some plants that were almost wiped out by various pests here seemed to grow happily in theri native lands. We were importing the plants and their pests, but not the unknown creatures that controlled the pests, he decided.
     THIS WAS the beginning of an inspired quest for enemies of injurious pests for George Compere which took him to Australia and Hong Kong, China. Just as he returned to California, he was asked to return to Australia as entomologist with the State of Western Australia, in a cooperative agreement between that area and California. From there his fame spread, and he went to Brazil in 1904, the next year to Israel, returned to China in 1908, where he found parasites of red scale, which he took to Perth, Australia.
     Young son harold, as with many lads, couldn't have cared less about his father's achievements. He was going to be a fisherman and have great adventures at sea. Who cared about an education? School was prison.
     He dropped out of grammar school several times, but was forced to return. In 1912 he had finally reached high school--the old Lincoln High School in Santa Monica. But not to finish the last year.
     He got a job for the grand sum of eight dollars a week as deckhand on a pleasure boat aperating from Frazer's Million Dollar Pier at Ocean park. Even then there must have been something about his personality that lifted him from the ordinary. The other deckhands called him "Chief."
     THE VISION of a wild, adventurious life at sea soon soured. His father's love of plants and great desire for learning about them began to seep into Harold's soul. Suddenly he found that life at sea wasn't nearly as fascinating as the products of good, solid earth.
     He landed in San Francisco and heard about the reclamation of worthless land by John McLaren and the creation of Golden Gate Park. Harold applied for a job as a lowly apprentice gardener, and got the job on January 1, 1913. The pay was a dollar and a half per day.
     "The work was hard, physically labor," said Harold. "Nothing is better than that to show a dropout the error of his ways."
     Some of the trees in the park were dying from insect attacks, and when Harold showed an interest in "bugs," he was assigned the job of pest control. That was when his long years of study began, when he realized how little he knew, and wished he'd listened to more of his father's directives.
     HIS STUDIES set him apart from fellow workers, who started calling him "The Professor."
     "I had the status of a foreman," remarked Harold wryly, "but the pay of an apprentice gardener." The thought rankled.
     "In 1915 it was announced that the City and County of San Francisco was going to establish a position for a County Horticultural Commissioner," he said. "I wanted that job. It was a white-collar job with an office, expense account and paid $6 a day. With the permission of John McLaren, superintendent of Golden Gate Park, I took a leave of absence and studied for the examination that was to be given to qualify for the position.. Moreover, I had the assurance of the now legendary McLaren that the job would be mine if I could pass the qualifying examination. McLaren was a very influential man and had taken the matter of my appointment ot the chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
     "I passed the examination with the highest score but failed the age test. I was a minor---not 21 years of age."
     The late Professor Harry Scott Smith gave the examination, and Compere must have made a more than favorable impression, for he offered Compere a job as his assistant. Smith was superintendent of the State Insectary, Capitol Park, Sacramento.
     "Except for time out for the duration fo World War I, I served under Harry Smith from 1915 until his retirement (there in Riverside) in 1952.
     IN 1917 Compere was given a leave of absence from the State Commission of Horticulture to join the U.S. Army as a private in the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps. College training was a requirement, but Harold was used to examinations by now, and talked his way into an appointment in the School of Military Aeronautics, UC Berkeley.
     He entered the school on October 27, 1917 and eight weeks later graduated near the bottom of the class. With little formal schooling, completing that course was heroic, for a large percentage of the students with college training were flunked out before completing the course.
     "Compere had a strong desire to fight the enemy," said his old friend Dr. Alfred Boyce, former director of the Citrus Experiment Station, "but he made such an impression in student flight training that---against his request---he was assigned to teach blind flying. Can you imagine flying blind in a "Jenny?"
     COMPERE WAS trained to fly at Rockwell Field, North Island, San Diego. While there he made a cross-country flight to Alessandro and he was officially recognized as the first student flyer to land at March Air Base.
     He had another "first" to his credit. According to a Literary Digest report on Compere, ("The Airplane as a Farm Scout." March 29, 1919) he was a pioneer in putting an airplane to practical use in connection with agriculture. The article said that in Compere's test of 1918 this new aerial survey and inspection marks the first use of an airplane in agriculture, and "may be the starting of an important use of this new means of transportation and observation for scouting and inspection purposes in other fields of research or control work."
WHEN THE war was over, the state decided that Harry Smith's Division of Beneficial Insect Investigation should be connected with a school of learning, and established Smith and his division here at the Citrus Experiment Station. Another division was opened at UC Berkeley, with Smith heading that also. Harold Compere came south with him, and helped Smith make the station the greatest center of biological control in the world, said Dr. Boyce.
     "A mealybug infesting citrus -- Citrophilis gahani -- was ruining crops," said Dr. Boyce. "By the time I arrived in Riverside in 1927 Harold was already off to Australia looking for an enemy of this mealybug. With the few insecticides we had in those days, we couldn't begnin to control it. The only thing we could do was to gush a thousand gallons of water on each tree, hoping to wash it off. Compere came back from Australia with the right mealybug enemy. In two year the pest had disappeared. It was a classic case of saving an industry. WIth no formal training in entomology, Comperew had become a world authority on the use of parasites."
     HONORS were heaped on Compere by the industry, and by the California Association of Nurserymen.
     In Orange County more than 40,000 acres of citrus had been infested with this mealybug. Estimates of cost of fighting the pest before Compere's discovery were up to a million dollars. Cost of Compere's trip was $1,700.
     Subsidized by Sunkist (the California Fruit Growers Exchange) Compere was sent to South America in 1934 to find natural enemies of red scale. Before that, in 1930, he was sent to Eritrea (now part of Ethiopia) to look for black scale parasites. With samples of plants and bugs, he arrived in Egypt to arrange storage for his finds. The Egyptians put his treasures in a storehouse at 120 degrees. It was all cooked.
     With no air transportation, he had to keep his specimens alive on ships, carts, trains, anything he could find to carry them. He struggled with officials who misunderstood his work in India and China, where he searched for "good" bugs in 1932. He went to New South Wales, then South America, where customs officials took away his microscope. It took the American Embassy to recover it.
     He made three expeditions to Africa, on the second and third of which he was accompanied by his wife, Joan. He went to Japan, the Phillippines and all over the work, on the go from 1927 to 1951.
     The Lemon Men's Club sent his wife along to South America in 1934. When he found the parasite for the dreaded black scale, he said that this parasite alone probably repaid the growers. It took pages and pages to list his discoveries, as well as his writings, which he began in 1916.
     HAROLD AND JOAN bought the hill on Bonnie Brae in Riverside and built their home in 1926. The noted Riverside architect Robert Spurgeon designed the house, still beautiful and liveable today.
     "We thought he was out of his mind when he started picking at the big rocks to plant all his trees, but they all grew," laughed Dr. Boyce. Today they almost hide the house. One big pine has wrapped its roots around a boulder. A neighbor, Doris Stockton, has helped him keep the garden full of blooming flowers, and free of weeds.
     At age 80, although very ill recently, Compere is still the charming dapper gentleman and as alert and knowledgeable as many half his age.
     Dr. Boyce, himself a world-renowned entomologist said, "The total of his successes equals or betters any othere record in his field. Harold is the best example I know of a totally self-made man. He has read copiously, remembers everything he reads, and has a natural ability to put things in their place."
Newsclipping Courtesy of Ann Gaul

University of California at Riverside
Harold Compere became one of the premier explorers
in the history of biological control.
You may read his whole story by clicking on:
Harold Compere


Ann Gaul, who kindly shared her collection of materials on Harold, which I have used to build this page, included in the package some fascinating stories and photographs of his father. I found them to be so interesting that I decided to share them with my visitors and built a page for him. While George Compere had no connection with early aviation, I think you will enjoy reading about his life and career.
To visit his page, just click on:
George Compere

Harold Compere died in 1978
Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this Early Flier,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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