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From Presidents to Peasants – Bed Bugs in History

“Sleep tight, don’t let the Bed Bugs bite.”

One thing that we have learned historically, where Bed Bugs are concerned, social class doesn’t matter. Royals,  peasants, middle class and even presidents have had a peaceful nights sleep interrupted by the Bed Bug.  A biography of President Lincoln’s life recounts that in 1848 one his traveling companions, Judge David Davis reports, “This thing of traveling in Illinois, and being eaten up by Bed Bugs and mosquitoes… is not what it is cracked up to be.”

Bed bugs haven’t changed their ways of surviving in thousands of years.

Bed Bugs still thrive in areas where large groups of people travel and live. They were believed to be brought to the new world by the colonist on ships and in cargo.  What has changed historically is the way that people have tried to eliminate them and regain their peaceful sleep.  Accounts range from the practical to the extreme, such as a 1777 pest control guide titled, The Complete Vermin-Killer where readers are advised to;

“Beat some gunpowder into the crevices of the bedstead..and ‘fire it with a match, and keep the smoke in.”

OK, a little extreme.  But I guess that’s what you might consider as a last resort when you haven’t had a good nights sleep in weeks!

It wasn't until the 1950’s when DDT was introduced into the market that the populations of Bed Bugs began to diminish. Only to learn that the side effects of this product were worse than the bite of the Bed Bug!

Why the recent resurgence?

Bed Bugs are highly adaptable creatures and have built up resistances to pesticides previously used to eliminate them.  They have been making their way back into the United States starting in largely traveled “gateway” areas such as New York, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Other factors that have contributed to the advance of bed bug populations are:

  • Globalization including travel, imports & exports
  • Lack of Public Awareness
  • Increased use in second-hand products

For tips on solutions to Bed Bug problems be sure to read our blog on Wednesday.  Need answers sooner?  Call us today! 


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Thanks to Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingam,, and