The clipper ship Black Warrior was built in Maine in 1853 and purchased by a Baltimore shipping company. It made guano voyages to Peru in 1855 and 1857. It also sailed to China twice in the late 1850s; this oil portrait of the ship at Hong Kong was painted by an unknown Chinese artist on one of those voyages.
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fertilizer Sample Kit from Baltimore, Around 1900
Fertilizer sample kits like this one allowed salespersons to illustrate and discuss the merits of different fertilizers to farmers in the 19th century. Baltimore was the largest guano port in the United States on account of its excellent port, transportation connections, and strong agricultural interests in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Gift of Norton Benfer
Cannon From Howland Island, 19th Century
The U.S. Navy was charged with protecting American citizens’ rights and safety in the pursuit of guano. This navy cannon was recovered from Howland Island, a 450-acre guano island in the center of the Pacific Ocean. The remote island was claimed by different American guano companies in the 19th century.
Loan from Naval History and Heritage Command, NHHC 1996-26-A
Mounted South American Guanay Cormorant, 1976
The guanay cormorant was once called “the most valuable bird in the world.” Cormorants and other guano-producing seabirds on South America’s Pacific coast bred on small offshore islands, where they faced no natural predators.
Loan from National Museum of Natural History, Division of Birds
Bottle of Guano Art, Around 1880
Believed to have been made by Chinese miners from different-colored seabird guanos, this intricate example commemorates a 1880s visit by the Searsport, Maine-owned ship Henrietta for a cargo of guano. By the time of its single guano voyage to Peru, the islands were almost mined out.
Loan from Carver Collection, Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, Maine
Swan Island Guano. Around 1900
Swan Island was one of a group of three tiny guano islands in the northwestern Caribbean off Honduras. The island group was sold and resold multiple times in the 19th century on account of the seabird guano’s high phosphate content.
Loan from Woods Hole Historical Museum
Guano Australis, Late 19th Century
Guano’s properties were so respected that it was made into a homeopathic medicine for human consumption. It was suggested for use in 1854 for “violent headache as from a band band around head. Itching of nostrils, back, thighs, genitals. Symptoms like hay-fever.”
Gift of Gustav H. Tafel
Guano Books and Pamphlets, Late 19th Century
Guano was so important to the agricultural community worldwide that scholars, journalists and other writers published a variety of articles and books on the subject.
Loan from Smithsonian Libraries, Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology