In 1906, Kansas Secretary of Public Health, Samuel J. Crumbine, began his mission to expose the germ carrying-spreader fly by educating the public from his published writing, “Fly Bulletin.” Even though Dr. Crumbines bulletin included strong detailed facts such as how flies are the spreaders for dirt, diarrhea, and disease, which leads to toxins, typhoid, and tuberculosis, few people were heeding his advice for care, caution, and cleanliness.
One evening, Dr. Crumbine caught a baseball game where he saw a batter hit a high fly ball right over the fence. A thrilled fan in the stands yells, “Did you see him swat the fly!” A new campaign slogan was born for Crumbine – “Swat the Fly!” But, how do you swat a fly without a flyswatter?
In southeast Kansas, Principal Frank Rose, from Weir and local boy scout troop were busy following one of Crumbines mottos: “Screens are cheaper than doctors’ bills.” They went around the city of Weir helping the citizens screen their windows. One member of the troop will later become a doctor in Pittsburg, H. J. Veatch. There’s also an incentive, Crumbine offered a bounty for dead flies. To make it easier, Rose, along with help from the troop, cut leftover screening into small squares and nailed them into the ends of yardsticks and named them, “Fly Bats.”
Frank Rose took their one of their Fly Bats to Topeka for a meeting with the Kansas Secretary of Public Health. Crumbine carefully looked over the creation, declared it wonderful, and said, “But, that’s not a fly bat, it’s a flyswatter!” It wasn’t long before Kansans were making their swatters and handing them out at the State Fair, County Fairs, and even at fly parades across the state.
As we reach for a flyswatter to arm ourselves on a hot Kansas day, we have fellow southeast Kansan, Frank Rose to thank. The Weir Boy Scout Troop later went on to help discourage the production of flies by hauling away garbage and trash.
Did you know that Dr. Samuel Crumbine was the model for the character Doc Adams played by Milburn Stone, also a Kansan from Dodge City, on the television show Gunsmoke? Crumbine earned recognition as the author for, Frontier Doctor and his fly bulletin. His campaign slogans such as, “Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk” and “Swat that Fly,” helped the fight against tuberculosis.
— Amanda Minton is the director of Crawford County Historical Museum as well a lecturer of history at Pittsburg State University.