Bedbug extermination, historically | Bleader

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bedbug extermination, historically

Posted By on 02.03.12 at 08:00 AM

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Bedbugs may seem like a relatively recent problem in the U.S., but that's only because most of us aren't old enough to remember the last time the parasites were common: they were exterminated almost entirely in the 1940s and '50s. My grandmother, who's almost 90, told me she remembers her mother squirting kerosene on the bedroom windowsills to get rid of bedbugs—and that's not even one of the most extreme ways to get rid of the pests that I've heard of.

Looking through the Reader's archives to see what we've published about bedbugs in the past (not much), I came across a couple posts from Cliff Doerksen's Bad News From the Past series. The first, from 1891, deals with an invention that will supposedly electrocute bedbugs. It doesn't mention whether the device has any effects on human occupants of the bed, though.

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The second isn't concerned so much with how to get rid of bedbugs as how they may be useful in getting rid of in-laws: in 1908, an elderly woman reportedly jumped out of a second-story window out of frustration with the wee beasties.

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I also learned while web-surfing that the cheapest brothels in Chicago's vice districts at the turn of the 20th century were in a section at Federal and 19th called Bed Bug Row. I hadn't thought before about the role of prostitution in spreading bedbugs, but it makes sense.

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