Friday, March 28, 2014


My daughter Amy just finished reading Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel, a biography of Theodore Geisel (better known to generations of children and adults as Dr. Seuss, the author of The Cat in the Hat and other books).

On page 65 I learned that Standard Oil of New Jersey (later to become Exxon) contracted with Geisel for seventeen years to draw cartoon panels for their Flit advertising campaign.

Flit was an insecticide invented by chemist Dr. Franklin C. Nelson, and dispensed in manual spray pumps. Anyone who lived on or visited Ocracoke in the 1930s through the 1950s will remember these Flit bug-spray guns. They were used regularly on the island for killing flies and mosquitoes. Every household, it seemed, had a Flit spray-gun handy to combat the bugs.

Photo Courtesy of Bullenw├Ąchter

Geisel's cartoons, and the tag line "Quick, Henry, the Flit," rocketed the product to immediate success.   Although the original formula was mineral-oil based, by the 1940s and 1950s the insecticide contained DDT. Eventually, of course, the harmful effects of DDT were recognized, and the product was discontinued.

I can still remember my grandmama spraying the Flit gun in the house. I thought maybe cousin Blanche still had an old spray gun in her outbuilding, but, alas, even Blanche discarded hers. There is probably not one left on the island, and that's probably a good thing.

Out latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a reprint of a 1948 article about the Mail Boat Aleta, "Boat Hauls Mail, More." You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous9:53 AM

    What a scary thought. The unintended consequences to willy nilly spraying toxic chemicals into the air one breathes . I grew up in a household with a manually operated flyswatter. It was a long thin handle of medium gague wire attached to a rectange of pliable plastic perforated into perhaps a decorative pattern of sorts. This was an opportunity for us children to develop hand and eye coordination as one stalked the inscect of choice. Now, I must admit the need to clean the instrument of destruction was not impressed upon me , but the thought of all those guts did gross me out. I don't recall anyone spraying it with with say, a window cleaner... which reminds me I have incapacitaed many a bug with what ever was available in my time of need , window cleaner ,bathroom cleaner, air freshener but bug spray to me is only for outside! But indeed the biography of Theodore Giesel is a must read. A story of true GRIT.

  2. Bear MacDonald10:29 AM

    I was reflecting back to watching the cartoons as a child where a character would be depicted flitting about with such a device wrecking havoc upon all those whom he sprayed. This caused me to wonder. Could this device be the origin of the term flitting about? Gathering the gumption to investigate, alas but nay. The verb flitten was first used in 13th century English and had Nordic roots.
    One definition used informally is an empty headed, silly often erratic person.
    Somehow apropos.
    Gumption however is informally defined as what I had before my get up and go got up and went.
    I obviously have too much time on my hands.

    1. Anonymous10:54 AM

      If we forget the past we are doomed to repeat it. As a shill for pesticides perhaps this cartoonist promoting the use of toxic chemicals softened the image of early cartoon depicts an older sister explaining to her father, the male younger sibling is gargling with the bug spray because he swallowed a bug.... if anyone is interested the many cartoons drawn for this advertising successful advertising campaign are available on line I found some at MotherJones... DD:)

  3. Anonymous11:06 AM

    Rachel Carsons a marine biologist ,author of Silent Spring a book implicating toxic chemicals and their effect on the environment did not make Producers of DDT happy. They put up a fight . If some people have too much time on their hands read about the oil spills in Galveston TX , the West Virginia disaster about the leaking storage tank ....Deep Water Horizon debacle... so many rules on the books are not enforced we today are surviving(?) in a toxic soup

    1. Anonymous11:52 AM

      Apparently you have been sleeping for many years. Silent Spring was a gothic tale, Rachael was a nutjob, and DDT is as safe as milk. Harvard, ACHS, etc. have confirmed this. DDT is effective and cheap and was banned purely for political reasons. The EPA is rogue. Wake up from your stupor.

  4. I do hope anonymous is being sarcastic. . .