Insecticides and Dr. Seuss


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:


Pesticide Action Network: Bee Friendly Plants? Think Again.

Pesticide Action Network: Pesticides and Honey Bees

National Institue of Environmental Health Sciences

Global Research

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

Shay. ‘Dr. Seuss, Petrochemicals, and the War on Bugs.’ Chelsea Green Publishing. 5 April 2012. Web. 19 September 2013

Allen, Will. The War on Bugs. White River Jct: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007. Web. 19 September 2013

Retro Adverto. ‘Flit Insecticide Household Spray-1949 (Dr. Seuss).’ Retro Adverto. 24 June 2012. Weblog. 19 September 2013

University of California San Diego. ‘The Advertising Artwork of Dr. Seuss.’ Mandeville Special Collections Library. 2010. Web. 19 September 2013



Filed under 1940s, Advertisement, Art

4 responses to “Insecticides and Dr. Seuss

  1. How funny to see Dr Seuss connected with pesticides — or any product for that matter.

    I used to write motivational messages as part of my job. Lately I’ve shared some of those on my blog. However, one I’ve held back from sharing is related to the Dr Seuss characters. I hold back because one man [who wasn’t even in my business area and it was forwarded to him] got so outrageously upset. What a rant! He apparently thought he was the only one who should be allowed to discuss Dr Seuss. LOL. It’s funny. But it was also a bit frightening to see someone get that upset about such a thing. I wonder how he’d react to the product advertisements. Ha.

    • I was really surprised when I saw this advertisement, too! I ONLY think of Dr. Seuss as the author/illustrator of all those weird, but great for kids books, and not an advert man, at all, but hey, it was a great opening for him into the world of publishing, and without those ads, we wouldn’t have the Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, etc.

      That’s really neat you used to write inspirational messages-that’s always one of those things that I never really think of a person behind-kinda like greeting cards. I’ll definitely have to check some of those out! (I also wonder what that man would think of these!)

  2. Donna LaPointe

    I have found a Flit bug sprayer with Dr. Seuss’ artwork.

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