Bed bugs as big business: 1939 Post Office London Directory

by nobugsonme on January 9, 2009 · 8 comments

in bed bugs, england, history, london, money, pest control, united kingdom

This morning, a bit of history: the Post Office London Directory in two volumes, 1939, discovered at the New York Public Library. (Sorry for the graininess but let’s just say this was an accidental find — the camera phone was the only option.)

Note the advertisement around the edges: We Destroy Rats, Mice, Beetles, Moths, etc. on one side, a prominent picture of a bed bug on others.

The 1939 Post Office London Directory (apparently published by Kelly’s) in two volumes was the 1939 London “phone book.”  It tells us a few things:

  • Bed bugs were big business: the company that could afford the most prominent advertising in London was a Bayswater (W1) pest control company.
  • Bed bugs were a big problem in 1939: the only picture included in the ad is a really big bed bug.  Not a mouse, a rat, a beetle, a moth: the ad is primarily about bed bugs.
  • This also tells us that: bed bugs were visually recognizable to all.

1939 was, of course, before DDT.





1 Renee January 9, 2009 at 12:04 pm


2 nobugsonme January 9, 2009 at 7:40 pm

KillerQueen in the forums thinks it looks like a beetle.

Anyone else?

In any case, I think it’s supposed to be a bed bug. It’s stylized, of course. I have seen the exact graphic elsewhere. It is not unlike our old icon: old icon

Remember that guy? I took an image an entomologist gave me and (with his permission) ran it through a lot of color and texture filters. He’s less rotund than the phone book bed bug, and his antennae are more accurate.

And it was easier to see up close. Maybe I will try and get another photo.

3 pest control January 10, 2009 at 7:17 am

very interesting anyone know what was used to clear the bugs back then ?

4 nobugsonme January 10, 2009 at 3:08 pm

pest control,

kerosene, perhaps?

5 Jessica January 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

What an awesome find, Nobugs!

It sure as heck looks like a bed bug to me.

Very, very interesting stuff. I’m so glad you took these pictures and posted them for us.


6 nobugsonme January 12, 2009 at 11:31 am

Thanks, Renee, for linking to this, and thanks to you and Jessica for your concurrence on the bedbugginess.

As I said on the New York vs. Bed Bugs comments, I will try to get in there with a better camera when I can.

7 nobugsonme January 14, 2009 at 11:34 pm


And check out the unengorged bed bug in the image in this PDF fact sheet from North Dakota (Department of Health, 2004) — warning, click to load a PDF. This one really looks like the advertising bed bug from 1939.

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