Archive Gallery: PopSci Goes A-Ratting (And More Pest Control)

Traps, lamps, poison and fire

About a month ago, my apartment had some unwelcome visitors in the form of cream-colored little worms writhing about on my kitchen and bathroom floor. Maggots. It was deeply unsettling, but, as always, science was on my side, with its pressurized cans of grocery store poison, specifically calibrated for my particular pest problem. Sure, we were sweeping up scores of dead fly bodies for weeks, but at least they were dead.

This week's archive gallery takes a look at all the different ways we humans like to destroy the creatures that bother us. Sometimes we poison them, sometimes we let an aesthetically-pleasing electrical lamp zap them from a comfortable distance away. Sometimes we build clever traps and sometimes we BURN THEM WITH FIRE.

Click here to explore the gallery.

Enter the gallery above to take a journey with us down the lane of pest control's past. We'll take a pit stop to go a-ratting with some old timey techniques, scrunch our nose a bit at our unfortunate obsession with DDT and emerge with a slew of options at the ready the next time we find ourselves confronted with unwanted houseguests.

Going A-Ratting, April 1919
In perhaps the greatest article ever run in Popular Science, we demonstrated several methods of hunting down and killing rats. Here are some of our top tips for trapping the wily beasts.
Battling Mosquitoes, August 1923
The member of the Essex County, New Jersey Mosquito Extermination Commission who wrote this article for us on how to eradicate the little buzzers clearly did not believe in maintaining the delicate balance of the food chain. In fact, he starts off by accusing the readers of not pulling their own weight: "You are probably complaining bitterly about the mosquito this summer. But what are you doing to eradicate the pest? Nothing, if you are like most other men. And yet, were it not for this carelessness and indifference, which dates back into antiquity, the mosquito might have been stamped out from the civilized world ages ago." To earn back his approval, you need "only to heed the following simple rules:"
Waging War on Locusts, September 1930
As swarms of locusts (aka grasshoppers) descended "like a plague to destroy green things in the Near East," bedouins enlisted the help of walls of zinc, which killed the wild horde in droves, and sodium arsenite (mixed with bran and molasses, for fiber and flavor), which they would sprinkle in locust territory to poison them. They also had a much more awesome weapon: a tank of pressurized gasoline that they wore on their backs, with a long-handled cone to light it and burn the suckers with fire. Read the full story in New Weapons Found For Locust War.
Testing Insecticides, November 1931
Scientists have different methods of figuring out the best way to kill bugs. There's the standard "observe their behavior in a lab" and then there's the fly death chamber, which, you may not be surprised to learn, researchers pump full of new insecticides to see how effective they are at killing the flies. A perhaps more civilized, though no less brutal method, are the "poison sandwiches." Researchers cut cute little disks of mulberry leaves, the favorite snack of silkworms, and cover them with poison dust. By measuring the weight of the silkworm and how much of the sandwich it ate before keeling over, scientists can determine exactly how much poison it takes to kill one. Read the full story in New Indian Poison Aids War on Bugs.
Homemade Electrical Rat Trap, July 1934
Perhaps tired of old-timey methods of going a-ratting, this intrepid DIY-er invented an electrical trap to kill rats at a Kansas restaurant. He stretched wires across a picture frame, and connected them to a 2,500-volt circuit, and to a water pipe the rats "used as a runway," effectively putting an end to any more unwanted rat fashion shows. Read the full story in Homemade Trap Electrocutes Rats.
We Love DDT, May 1945
As World War II wound down, we began to allow ourselves to imagine what life in peacetime would be like, "when Mr. and Mrs. Postwar American begin to benefit by what the chemists have been up to during these recent years." We were particularly riled up about the insecticide DDT. Before we know about the chemical's deleterious effects on the health of not just insects, but larger animals including humans, we suggested spraying your walls, clothes and even your bed with it, to kill pesky flies, discourage moths from munching and banish bedbugs. We even suggested dousing your dog in it to rid him of fleas, which is kind of sad. Read the full story in Chemical Marvels Take the "Bugs" out of Living.
Termites Will Rise, April 1964
In 1964, termites were costing American property owners $250 million a year. New housing developments were providing an ideal habitat for them, what with the inclination toward low-lying houses, lazy builders backfilling excavations with tasty wood scraps and central heating providing "a year-round favorable environment for the warmth-loving little gluttons." To protect their homes from the termites' hungry maws, we recommended the following preventative measures:
UV Bug Zappers, July 1980
As concern over the dangers of pesticides grew, PopSci was at the ready with an alternative suggestion that appealed to both people who were tired of bug spray and those who enjoyed frying insects with a magnifying glass as a child. Hanging boxes like this one emit ultraviolet light, which attracts bugs. Once the insects enter the kill zone, some models use a fan to herd them into a pool of water, there to die, some catch them with flypaper and some zap them with high voltage transformers. Our reporter talked to scientists, manufacturers and tried out the zappers himself, and determined that the electric ones give you the most bang for your bugs. Read the full story in Get Better Pest Control with UV Bug Killers.
Building a Better Mousetrap, June 1981
At the Geneva International Exhibition, one of the debuted inventions was this DIY foldable cardboard mouse trap. It's held together by a rubber band, which also serves as the spring. When the mouse triggers the trap, it snaps shut into a neat, disposable package that you can throw away without ever having to look at the captured creature. Read the full story in A Better Mousetrap.