Dakota Datebook

Swat the Fly!

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Springtime brings warm, sunny days and apple blossoms – and poets proclaim that love is in the air. Unfortunately, spring also heralds the arrival of houseflies, the pesky pests that imperil the health and well-being of young and old alike.

On this date, exactly one hundred years ago, a Grand Forks newspaper announced the arrival of the annual campaign to “SWAT THE FLY.” The month of May, according to a Grand Forks Herald article, brought “the war against the fly” – which was a “war to the death on both sides. Either the man kills the fly or the fly kills the man.”

“The hand of man” had to be raised against the fly and the hand had to come down on the insect with a “fatal whack” in order to protect families from the deadly diseases it brought. A new-found scientific awareness of germs and the flies that carried them led the Grand Forks Woman’s Civic League to declare war against houseflies in 1910 and annually thereafter.

“Flies are filthy!” declared the women of Grand Forks, “for they carry all kinds of diseases – typhoid fever, diarrhea, dysentery and tuberculosis. Kill them off! Join the fly crusade.” In 1910, the Woman’s Civic League sponsored a movie “illustrating the life history of the house-fly” for local citizens to view at a Grand Forks theater.

Because some local residents still used horses and carriages for transport, city laws required that all horse manure be “kept only in covered boxes” under a rainproof roof and all of that animal waste had to be had to be hauled out before “eight weeks” time had passed.

The anti-fly campaign stressed the virtues of cleanliness in the household and the efficient disposal of garbage. All citizens of Grand Forks were to “deprive the flies of breeding places.” All grocery stores and butcher shops were to cover their food stocks so that flies could not “infect the food” and pass pathologies on to customers. The goal was to exterminate the flies to bring on a “flyless millennium.” The battle plan included the use of “sticky fly paper,” traps and a newly-developed poison to kill the pests with their “sticky fly-feet . . . loaded with . . . microbes deadlier than bullets.” But the main weapon in the “anti-fly crusade” was the humble fly swatter. All North Dakotans were to swat flies at every opportunity.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

SOURCES: “Swatting of the Fly Again Resounds Throughout the Land,” Grand Forks Herald, May 24, 1912, p. 11.

“Down the Typhoid Fly,” Grand Forks Herald, August 21, 1910, p. 5

“Now is the Time To Kill Flies,” Grand Forks Herald, May 15, 1910, p. 5.

“Swat the Fly,” Grand Forks Herald, September 1, 1910, p. 4.

“More Dangerous Than Beasts,” Grand Forks Herald, August 20, 1912, p. 1.

“Urge Campaign Against Flies,” Grand Forks Herald, December 15, 1911, p. 1.

“Mrs. Scott Rex Reports Work of Committee,” Grand Forks Herald, October 15, 1914, p. 3.



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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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