“NEW YORK THIS SUMMER HAD PLAGUE OF BEDBUGS,” the St. Petersburg Times, October 10, 1944:
New Yorkers suffered not only from heat and humidity this summer—the city had a plague of bedbugs. Congested areas all over the country had the same complaint.
The 1944 season was hailed as one of “the worst” to date by the insects’ victims; one of “the best” by the dozens of exterminating companies that rushed to their rescue.
The Sameth Exterminating Company, Inc., one of the largest in the metropolitan area, reported calls averaging 120 a day during the height of the heat—not including contract customers such as hotels, theatres and warehouses.
There is a familiar diagnosis:
One of the main drawbacks in combating the pests, exterminators say, is that many people are ashamed to admit their presence.
“They think bedbugs are a disgrace,” one exterminator said, “but anybody can pick them up anywhere—in theatres, subways, busses, trains. The thing to do is get rid of them and then forget it.”
The exterminators agree that there is no sure way of preventing bedbugs.
And a working bed bug savvy meter:
[A]ny exterminator who walks into a house and sees a lot of coats lying across a bed will throw up his hands in horror.
“That’s practically planting the bugs,” they shudder.
And then a simple and reasonable hope, or perhaps the DDT PR machine of 1944:
A rosy post-war future for bedbug victims is predicted when the use of DDT (dichloro diphenyl tricholoroethane) becomes general. Department of agriculture experiments have shown that a surface sprayed with this chemical, now reserved for military use, will remain toxic for 300 days.
I’m not sure what happened to the Sameth Exterminating Company. They practically founded the city’s first industry association. In 1905, Nathan Sameth started Rat-Catchers of New York, a social club of sorts; later, “with reservations” according to Dr. Robert Snetsinger in The Ratcatcher’s Child: The History of the Pest Control Industry, they became the New York Vermin Exterminators Association. New York Vermin Exterminators Association is a fabulous name. It was predictably downhill from there, as far as names, and by 1939 they were called simply the New York Pest Control Association.