Reasons to Use Archipelago Bat Guano
History shows guano is the organic fertilizer with the most mystique. ( And other Fun Facts)
Guano is unquestionably more interesting than any other fertilizer.
And much of what makes guano interesting is its unique historical value
as one of the most prized fertilizers in the world. If it was the
best organic fertilizer for centuries past, it must be now.
Purists will tell you that “guano” only refers to seabird dung.
Most others will tell you that it is either seabird or bat dung.
Then, for both, there are differences if the guano is a fresh nitrogen
fertilizer or a fossilized phosphate fertilizer. For the purposes
of the following discussion, we really do not care to differentiate
because much of the information is just anecdotal and maybe even
The word “guano” comes from the native peoples of South America.
Specifically, it derives from the word “wanu,”
which is an ancient Quechuan
word meaning bird or bat droppings. Long before Columbus,
the Incas highly valued guano as a fertilizer. It was so important
to their culture that the Incan government divided the guano-bearing
islands between the various provinces and dictated when and where it
could be harvested. Incan law also provided that killing or
disrupting the nesting birds that produced guano was punishable by
However, the value of guano as a fertilizer was not known in Europe until
Humbolt returned from his 1806 voyage with
samples from Peru. Humbolt gave these
samples to Pourcroy and Vanquelin
of Paris. These scientists published the results of their
experiments in the “Annales de Chimie,” (vol. 56) and the western scientific
community was thus fairly apprized of the importance of this
material. But there was no practical application of guano until
1824. In that year, Mr. Skinner, editor of American Farmer,
received two barrels of guano at Baltimore. He sent small samples
to various people. One of those recipients, ex-governer
Lloyed of Maryland, later proclaimed it was
“the most powerful manure he had ever seen applied to
more happened until 1840, when twenty barrels of guano were received in England. “But notwithstanding
the astonishing results from its application to the soil, the fear that
the enormous crops realized under its stimulus might exhaust the land of
its productive elements, deterred the great body
of farmers from availing themselves of so valuable a fertilizer.” (Journal of the American Geographical
and Statistical Society (1895)) However, the fear quickly lapsed,
and in the years 1841-1857, the United Kingdom imported over 2 million
tons of guano fertilizer.
The United State’s farmers came to realize the agricultural value of
guano at the same time and they were not to be left out. Anxiety
over supply led President Fillmore to address the guano issue in his
first State of the Union Address. In that 1850 address, the
President stated that “guano has become so desirable an article to the
agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the
Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose
of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable
price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this
The frenzy for control of the guano trade was intense. It led to
the Guano War of 1865-1866, pitting Spain against Peru and Chile.
Not to be left out, the U.S. Navy also fought a battle with Peru for the
guano. Fear of guano shortages even led the United States into its
first bout of global colonialism. In 1856, Congress passed the
Guano Islands Act (still on the books at 48 U.S.C. § 1411-1419).
This Federal law allows U.S. citizens to claim an
unclaimed and uninhabited island for the United States if the island contains
guano (please obtain your own attorney’s opinion before attempting this
yourself). Over 50 islands were claimed in the Pacific and
Caribbean under authority of this Act, and many are still under U.S.
control. One of the most famous is Midway.
Drastically, by 1900, most of the great guano deposits were depleted and
the world was well on its way to dependence on chemical
fertilizers. But not before many fortunes were made. Between 1840-1880, Peru exported 20 million tons of
guano for a $2 billion profit. Individual guano fortunes founded
corporate giants such as W. R. Grace & Company. Some of the
guano money is still enjoyed to this day as it was used by William Gibbs
to build the beautiful Tyntesfield Estate and
St. Michael’s Church in England.
Besides all of this, guano went to space on every Gemini and Mercury
mission, it was essential to the Dupont
Corporation and America in wining the war of 1812,
it is rumored to have once been a common ingredient in cosmetics, and it
was the means by which James Bond killed Dr. No in the original
novel. Other phosphate sources just do not compare.
documents and further information can be found at the following web
Bat Guano, F. Schwarz, 2006 (The Guano Act
of 1856 was America’s first Imperialistic
High Wire, Rockey Spicer, 2004
(details costs and exploits in an attempt at mining guano in the Grand Canyon)
Does Guano Drive History, F.
Schwarz, 2004. (U.S. and Peru briefly fought over it and
it was the driving force in the Guano War. Irony that we have come
full circle with technology and it is now back
The History of W.R. Grace & Company, 1999
(This huge company was started by Grace importing Guano from Peru.)
(history of the man and company that inspired the Guano
Woods Hole, The Early years. (Guano was
important to early years at Woods Hole.)
Firepower and Fertilizer. (history of guano in South America)
Explosive Growth, J. Kelly, 1998. (short
explanation how nitrogen bat guano was incorporated in explosives)
Kentucky: Mammoth Cave Long on history, 2004.
(During war of 1812 nitrate bat guano from cave was mined and sent to Dupont to make gun powder for the war. The
British had foreign sources blockaded.)
Bats, Mosquitoes and Dollars, C. Campbell, 1925, The
Stratford Co., Boston. (Campbell raves about effectiveness
of guano fertilizer. He gives an example of a pecan tree that grew
from 39 inches to 22’6” in 4.5 years with nitrogen guano. This is a
great book on bat habits and bats in general, based on extensive
How is bat guano used in the production of
cosmetics, particularly eye-make up, 2000.
(Nitrogen seabird and bat guano contains guanine and this material is
used in cosmetics to produce an iridescent finish. Author is not
certain if guano was ever used in cosmetics (but think about it: guano -
Opinions: What’s on your face?,
T. Thompson, 2006. (Guano may have been used in the past to
make the guanine used in the make-up industry, but the law now requires
that it is made from fish scales.)
Millard Fillmore, First annual message, December 2, 1850.
Guano Estate Opens Doors, 2003. (the
greatest intact Victorian Estate in England (Tyntesfield
Estate) was built from a guano fortune)
(William Gibbs, the founder of Tyntesfield
Estate also funded St. Michael’s Church on guano money)
the novel that was the basis for the film, Dr. No was a guano salesman who
was killed when James Bond buried him in a pile of it.)
Case Studies, Guano Trade. (Between 1840 and 1880, Peru exported
20,000,000 tons of guano for a profit of $2 billion.)
Dung in the Space Race, A surprising fuel for projects
Mercury and Gemini, J. Bickford, 2004. (Nitrogen guano was used in
all of the Gemini and Mercury space missions)
Statistics of Guano, Journal of the American
Geographical and Statistical Society, v. 1, no. 6, 1895.
(Seabird guano was not used in America much at first because the
results were so good the farmers feared the soil would become
depleted. Provides much of the early history of guano usage.)
48 U.S.C. § 1411-1419, The Guano Islands Act
(Land may be claimed for U.S. based on discovery of
guano. 50 islands, including Midway were claimed.)
The Guano War of 1865-1866. (Spain occupied the guano-rich
Chincha Islands off of the Peruvian
coast. Chile joined forces with Peru to fight the Spanish.)