A bounty for flies? The very thought brings a smile. It makes my Boomer brain recall the Monty Python skit of big game hunters hauling out the heavy ammo in order to capture an insect. Or that immortal line uttered in the movie Return of the Fly (1959) with Vincent Price: “What if Philippe does not have the mind of a human, but the MURDEROUS BRAIN OF A FLY?!?”
But as we saw in an earlier Random News blogpost set in Washtucna in 1915 concerning typhoid, the link between flies and the spread of disease was fully recognized by the start of the 20th century. And it was no joke.
The state publication The Common House Fly : a Dangerous Pest by A.L. Melander (1905) doesn’t mince words: “From what we have just observed concerning the food of the maggot it will be seen that the BODIES OF HOUSE FLIES ARE MERELY TRANSFORMED EXCREMENT.” Obviously there is something about flies that makes people want to use all uppercase letters to make a point.
Civic groups across the country began offering bounties for flies starting around 1912 from what I can ascertain. In Centralia in 1916, a two ounce bottle of slain flies garnered a nickel. In Olympia in 1917 a pint of dead flies earned 10 cents. By the time the following randomly found article appeared in The Pasco Herald for May 12, 1921, the era of fly bounties was about over– in the United States. As recently as 2007 a city in China was offering such a bounty, and Manila in 1996.
“SWAT THE FLY– CASH FOR FLIES”
“A campaign with the above slogan as a battle cry, has been launched by the Pasco Woman’s Club to make this a fly-less community.”
“A bounty, dead or alive has been placed upon the trespassing-obnoxious fly, and this bounty will be paid in cash upon the delivery of the said fugitives at the club rooms on Saturday, May 28, between the hours of 2 and 5 p.m. Five cents a pint is the price set upon their heads or rather upon any and all parts of their anatomy. No questions will be asked only bring the flies. Not satisfied with offering a reward for their destruction, the club members have arranged for the making of fly traps in the manual training department of the public schools and their being given out at actual cost of construction to all who wish to have them.”
“For the next twenty days the word of greetings that will be expected will be the cry to ‘Get busy and Swat the Fly.'”
“To show the immediate need of action, some mathematically inclined members of the club have figured it out that one female fly wintered over to April 15, if not exterminated but is allowed to multiply until Sept. 10, will have a family of children, grand children and great grandchildren, ad infinitum, to the number of 5,598,720,000,000. If you doubt their figures catch one and feed it and find out.”
“The ladies have also gathered a few simple precautions that are here being passed on, with the request that they be observed.”
“1. Screen porches, doors and windows.
2. Trap the flies– Swat the flies.
3. Clean up back yards and alleys.
4. Haul out the manure.
5. Keep garbage covered.
6. Kill the winter flies.
7. Make all privvies fly-proof.
8. Join with your neighbor to get rid of flies in your community.”
The Pasco Herald became the Tri-City Herald in 1947. The Pasco Woman’s Club is included in the WSL manuscript collection: Washington State Library’s Collection of Washington State Women’s Clubs Yearbooks, 1902-1973, 1916-1940.