Edward A. Whitcomb (1843-1924) was a man of many occupations: soldier, farmer, apiarist, businessman, editor, legislator, and postmaster. His fifty-year career in Nebraska is an example of the multiple activities of many early settlers that benefited the state in a number of different ways.
A native of Pennsylvania, Whitcomb was raised in Illinois, from which he enlisted in the Union Army and served throughout the Civil War. Whitcomb left Illinois for Nebraska in 1870, taking a homestead, now partly included in the town of Friend [Friendville, before 1874] in Saline County. Whitcomb farmed and raised fruit and bees on his homestead and in 1872 went into the mercantile business. In 1877 he was elected to the Nebraska Legislature and served one term. In 1882 he became owner and editor of the Friend Telegraph, with which he was associated for more than thirty-five years. Whitcomb also served as longtime postmaster at Friend.
Besides his editorial career with the Telegraph and his brief foray into politics, Whitcomb gained a state and national reputation as an apiarist. He served as state apiary superintendent for seven years, and as superintendent of Nebraska’s apiarian exhibits at both the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha in 1898. Joseph Garneau, Nebraska’s commissioner general to the Columbian Exposition, was so eager to secure Whitcomb’s services in 1893 that he wrote to J. Sterling Morton, then U.S. secretary of agriculture, and to James E. Boyd, governor of Nebraska, to ask for their help in securing Whitcomb a leave of absence from his postmaster’s job at Friend so that he could help prepare Nebraska’s exhibit in Chicago.
Whitcomb, with his characteristic bushy sideburns, was a familiar figure on lecture platforms and at farmers’ institutes. He served as president of the Nebraska Bee Keepers’ Association and in 1898 became president of the United States Bee Keepers’ Association. He was widely recognized as one of the most reliable authorities on bees in the country.
Whitcomb died in 1924. His obituary, published June 13, 1924, in the Friend Telegraph, stressed his career with that newspaper: “He was one of the old editors of the state, . . . A few years ago he was presented with a gold medal by the Nebraska Press Association for being the editor having the longest continuous service on the same paper.” The Telegraph also remembered him as “one of the pioneer merchants of this place, having conducted a little store on the homestead in the early seventies prior to the incorporation of Friend as a village, after which the store was moved into town.”