Out Of Control Urban Fly Populations Terrified Americans During The Early Twentieth Century
Today, everyone should be familiar with the various ways in which people can protect themselves from dangerous insect pests. Mosquitoes are the modern insect threat to be controlled, and American public health officials are doing their best to share with the public the various measures that can be taken to avoid sustaining bites from disease-carrying mosquitoes. Insect pests have always been a threat to humans, and it is impossible to find a time in history when there was not an insect menace to fear. For example, back in 1900, Americans were terrified of flies. The flies that were feared during this time were not exotic flies that bit people or spread disease; instead, the insect threat came from simple houseflies. It may be hard to believe that Americans used to fear houseflies, as they are encountered on a daily basis during the summer, but the American government used to be convinced that houseflies possessed disease-spreading potential. During the early twentieth century, government-employed public health officials were not shy about sharing the housefly threat with the America public. As you can imagine, the American public responded to these warnings with mass panic.
Today we take garbage-disposal services for granted. Believe it or not, public garbage-disposal has not always been an established part of life in America. Prior to the mainstream use of vehicles, horses were common, and they left massive amounts of manure in the streets, as did many other animals. At the time, public health officials feared that flies would spread disease to humans after making contact with the bacteria-rich manure that littered the streets of Washington DC. Houseflies used to be viewed as filthy, as they were well known to swarm near decaying carcasses as well. One educator at the time falsely claimed that fly-borne disease killed seventy thousand Americans every year. The threat of fly-borne disease prompted activists and public health officials to demand that the government dispose of the tons of manure in urban regions. Public health officials recommended that citizens of manure-saturated urban areas install screens on their doors and windows in order to prevent the entrance of flies. However, the calls for public sanitation reforms were halted by experts who had claimed that houseflies were not spreaders of disease. Luckily, pioneers in the field of medical entomology pressed for better public sanitation programs in order to control the fly supposed menace. Eventually, the overabundance of flies subsided along with the progressive decrease of public manure heaps.
Do you think that you too would have worried about disease-carrying flies if you lived during the first half of the twentieth century?