In the 1940s and ’50s dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, a synthetic pesticide better known as DDT, was used to kill bugs that spread malaria and typhus in several parts of the world.  DDT was argued to be toxic to humans and the environment in the famous environmental opus, Silent Spring.  It was banned by the U.S. government in 1972.

Before all that, though, it was sprayed in American neighborhoods to suppress insect populations. The new movie Tree of Life has a great scene re-enacting the way that children would frolick in the spray as the DDT trucks went by. Here are two screen shots from the trailer:

Searching around, I also found some vintage footage (the person who uploaded the clip doesn’t specify the documentary):

The scene reminded me of an old post we’d written, below, featuring advertisements for the pesticide, one with the ironic slogan “DDT is good for Me-e-e!”


DDT was a pesticide marketed to housewives (and many others). We later discovered it to be an environmental toxin. Below are three of the advertisements (via Mindfully and KnowDrama and noticed thanks to John L.):

DDT-laced wallpaper, from Copyranter:

(text for this final ad after the jump)


“The great expectations held for DDT have been realized. During 1946, exhaustive scientific tests have shown that, when properly used, DDT kills a host of destructive insect pests, and is a benefactor of all humanity.

Pennsalt produces DDT and its products in all standard forms and is now one of the country’s largest producers of this amazing insecticide. Today, everyone can enjoy added comfort, health and safety through the insect-killing powers of Pennsalt DDT products . . . and DDT is only one of Pennsalt’s many chemical products which benefit industry, farm and home.

GOOD FOR FRUITS – Bigger apples, juicier fruits that are free from unsightly worms . . . all benefits resulting from DDT dusts and sprays.

GOOD FOR STEERS – Beef grows meatier nowadays . . . for it’s a scientific fact that compared to untreated cattle beef-steers gain up to 50 pounds extra when protected from horn flies and many other pests with DDT insecticides.

FOR THE HOME – Helps to make healthier and more comfortable homes . . . protects your family from dangerous insect pests. Use Knox-Out DDT Powders and Sprays as directed . . . then watch the bugs ‘bite the dust’!

FOR DAIRIES – Up to 20% more milk . . . more butter . . . more cheese . . . tests prove greater milk production when dairy cows are protected from the annoyance of many insects with DDT insecticides like Knox-Out Stock and Barn Spray.

GOOD FOR ROW CROPS – 25 more barrels of potatoes per acre . . . actual DDT tests have shown crop increases like this! DDT dusts and sprays help truck farmers pass these gains along to you.

FOR INDUSTRY – Food processing plants, laundries, dry cleaning plants, hotels . . . dozens of industries gain effective bug control, more pleasant work conditions with Pennsalt DDT products.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.