My mother-in-law found this amazing little advertisement for Flit Insecticide at a collector’s estate sale (same sale as the chalkware horse and the Hearts and Masks book), and because the use of insecticides, pesticides, and fungicides to kill pests is currently a hot topic for her, she decided to get it, and graciously let me scan it and research it for my blog. She’s a beekeeper in the Tidewater area of Virginia, where spraying for mosquitoes happens too frequently. This is bad because it’s killing all of the honey bees in the area. No honey bees=no pollination=no delicious fruit, vegetables, or pretty flowers. But I digress. This post is not about the harmful affects of current insecticides, but the history of this advertisement on Flit.
Flit was a household name in the early 1920s up to the 1950s, thanks to effective marketing. Besides selling a household poison to rid an area of all bugs, they also created a handheld insecticide gun (like the one seen in this 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon), which flooded the market.
Insecticides have been around for a very long time, but advertisement for household use flared after World War I. Standard Oil, now Exxon, began by John D. Rockefeller in the 1830s, created and sold the petroleum based solvent infused with DDT, and hired Theodor Geisel, later known as Dr. Seuss, to create cartoons to propel and keep Flit at the top of the marketplace. Geisel’s imaginative drawings depicting bugs as man’s worst known enemy, along with the phrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!,” were plastered in thousands of magazines and newspapers. His branding of the product was so effective, that all bug sprayers from then on were coined ‘flit guns.’ Even crop dusting planes were named ‘flying flit guns.’ More of his advertisements with Flit can be found here, through the University of California San Diego’s Special Collections Library. Geisel created cartoons and adverts for Flit over the course of fifteen years, and one author even contends that Geisel’s cartoons single-handedly increased pesticide use in America.
If you are curious about current insecticide practices, or the plight of the honeybee, there’s a lot of great research out there:
Further Reading on Flit and Theodor Geisel:
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. ‘All About Dr. Seuss.’ Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums. 2004. Web. 19 September 2013 http://www.catinthehat.org/history.htm
Shay. ‘Dr. Seuss, Petrochemicals, and the War on Bugs.’ Chelsea Green Publishing. 5 April 2012. Web. 19 September 2013 http://www.chelseagreen.com/content/dr-suess-petrochemicals-and-the-war-on-bugs/
Allen, Will. The War on Bugs. White River Jct: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007. Web. 19 September 2013 http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/88128476?access_key=key-t676gog7o5enzzkuzoe&allow_share=true&view_mode=scroll
Retro Adverto. ‘Flit Insecticide Household Spray-1949 (Dr. Seuss).’ Retro Adverto. 24 June 2012. Weblog. 19 September 2013 http://retroadverto.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/flit-insecticide-household-spray-1949-dr-seuss/
University of California San Diego. ‘The Advertising Artwork of Dr. Seuss.’ Mandeville Special Collections Library. 2010. Web. 19 September 2013 http://libraries.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dsads/