University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

The Invention of the Fly Swatter

Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine and Frank H. Rose Improve Public Health

Fly Swatter

In 1906, Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine, the Kansas Secretary for Health and a leading medical reformer, was leading a state-wide campaign against flies and the diseases they carried. One night at a baseball game, an excited fan shouted “Did you see him swat that fly!” when the batter hit a fly ball over the fence. Dr. Crumbine adopted “Swat that fly!” for his anti-fly campaign.

Soon afterward Frank H. Rose of Weir City, Kansas, and his Boy Scouts were building window screens for people in town, as part of the public health campaign to control fly-borne diseases. They cut leftover squares of screening and nailed them to yardsticks—creating what they called “fly bats.”

Rose showed the new fly killer to Dr. Crumbine at the capital. When he saw the new public health tool, Dr. Crumbine called it a “fly swatter” and the name stuck.

Soon fly swatters were being handled out at the Kansas State Fair, at county fairs, and at local anti-fly parades all over the state.

The University of Kansas Medical Center has a large collection of materials about Dr. Crumbine’s health campaigns to prevent the spread of diseases, including his campaigns against spitting (which spread tuberculosis), sharing drinking cups, and shared roller towels in public restrooms.

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