The US Army used DDT to de-louse soldiers

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 29, 2015

Here is a little insect that with all his faults, and they are many, possesses certain virtues. He has solved the problem of race suicide, for he multiplies with astounding rapidity. He adapts himself easily, not to say gracefully, to uncomfortable, even unsanitary surroundings, and if he were permitted to speak in his own defense, would doubtless challenge you to show on all the pages of history any great military success attained by an army not accompanied and “egged on” as it were by cooties. Personally, I believe you would have difficulty in producing such an example.

The Tar Heel World War Record 1917-’18, by J. R. Graham

Louse infestations during WWI were common and concern about louse-borne disease was so great that after the armistice of 1918, returning troops were deloused at home ports and quarantined for 2 weeks.

drawing of liceFrom the book, “In the A. E. F. With an Artist,” by Lieut. Jno. B. Mallard, reproduced in The Tar Heel World War Record 1917-’18, p 153.

At the beginning of WWII, louse control involved dusting with NCI powder (96% naphthalene, 2% creosote, and 2% iodoform) or smearing vermijelli, made of crude mineral oil, soft soap, and water, along clothing seams. The delousing powder of choice was MYL, with pyrethrins as the active ingredient. Until DDT came along.

In 1942, a team of USDA entomologists, led by one Walter E. Dove, were drafted into the project of preventing louse-borne typhus in troops. They worked methodically, testing every chemical they could find to see what would kill lice. Among thousands of other samples, they received a waxy, granular substance from the Geigy Corporation in Switzerland.

Swiss chemist Paul Mueller had labored intensively at Geigy for four years to synthesize dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT); the basic Swiss patent was granted in 1940. This compound was originally made in 1873 by an Austrian student, but had never received any particular attention.

Field trials now showed it to be effective not only against the louse; but also against a wide variety of pests, including the common housefly, the Colorado beetle, and the mosquito. Geigy began manufacting two products based on DDT, Gesarol and Neocide, in 1942.

Gesarol did kill lice, and every other insect in the lab, but a crumbly wax doesn’t work well as a delousing treatment, so the USDA crew did the unglamorous but essential job of reformulating it. By 1943, they were producing large quantities of several formulations, including powders and sprays, and they were referring to Gesarol by its generic name, abbreviated to DDT.

The USDA scientists promoted DDT only for a few circumscribed uses, including delousing and malaria control. Indeed, project director Walter Dove specifically cautioned against spraying the stuff willy-nilly outdoors, arguing as early as 1944 that DDT was “definitely poisonous,” and that its environmental consequences might be bad.

It’s the only pesticide celebrated with a Nobel Prize: Paul Mueller won in 1948 for having discovered DDT’s insecticidal properties. But by then problems related to extensive use of DDT were already beginning to appear; DDT was discovered to have a high toxicity toward fish. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” raised alarm about DDT’s carcinogenic affects on humans. The insecticide was subsequently banned in the United States in 1973, although it is still in use in some other parts of the world.

Army poster for delousing with DDTThis WWII-era Army poster from the collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center instructs how to delouse an incoming recruit with DDT. “Both sleeves then three shots fore and three shots aft at both the neck and waistband.” “When numbers are to be treated a seat for the subject saves the back of the operator. Don’t forget the head and hat.”


“Delousing Procedures for the Control of Louse-borne Disease During Contingency Operations,” Published by the Armed Forces Pest Management Board Defense Pest Management Information Analysis Center Forest Glen Section/Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 2005,
The Tar Heel World War Record 1917-’18, by J. R. Graham, World War Publishing Company, Charlotte, N. C., 1921

One Response

  • Dr. Redling says:

    This story has many errors. DDT has never been linked to cancer in humans, it is as safe as milk. Rachael Carson was a fraud. Her made up story against DDT was purely political with no basis in reality.

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Light up a Spud!

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 28, 2015

The pack was expensive at 20 cents, but you got the first menthol-infused cigarette, ancestor to “Kool,” “Salem” and others. Why was it called “Spuds?”

Lloyd 'Spud' Hughes, 1928. Collection Mingo  Junction  History  Homepage.

Lloyd ‘Spud’ Hughes, 1928. Collection Mingo Junction History Homepage.

Lloyd “Spud” Hughes of Mingo Junction, OH gets the credit for introducing Americans to menthol cool smoking. Hughes wasn’t long out of high school and working as a cashier in a restaurant run by his father, when he came up with the idea of treating tobacco with menthol. The possibly apocryphal story is his mother insisted he inhale menthol crystals for his asthma. He soon noticed that when he stored his menthol and cigarettes in a tin container, the cigarette was pleasantly flavored. Mentholation furthermore acts as a mild anesthetic, numbs the throat to the harsh elements of tobacco smoke and thus allows a deeper and longer inhalation.

At first he just smoked the cigarettes himself. Later, he offered them to the railroad and mill workers who frequented his father’s restaurant. He patented his process, which treated tobacco by spraying it with a solution of menthol, alcohol, and the oil of cassia, and in September 1925 helped form the Spud Cigarette Corporation, Wheeling, WV.

Walter B. Hilton, a prominent Wheeling real estate and insurance man was president, and Lloyd was secretary/treasurer. Spud Cigarettes were made for this small company in Wheeling at Factory 12, WV by the Bloch brothers, manufacturers of popular Mail Pouch Tobacco. Spud Hughes sold his premium priced cigarettes (20 for 20 cents) from his car, door-to-door, in the Ohio Valley.

It wasn’t long before Woodford Fitch Axton, a Kentucky colonel and part owner and president of The Axton-Fisher Tobacco Company of Louisville, Kentucky, took notice. The Axton-Fisher Tobacco Co. made Clown Cigarettes, a modestly successful regional brand first sold in 1920. Axton saw the potential of Spud Hughes’ invention, and in May 1926 offered him $90,000 for the name and patent. Hughes accepted.



Axton Fisher hired a New York advertising firm to promote Spuds nationally—less irritating and suitable for sore throats due to colds!— and sold stock in the company for the first time to finance expansion. By 1932 Axton-Fisher had promoted Spud Cigarettes into the fifth best selling brand in the United States.

With competition from Brown and Williamson’s menthols Penquin in 1931 and Kool in 1933 the price of SPUD was reduced to 15 cents a pack in 1933. In 1944 Philip Morris bought Axton Fisher Tobacco Company; they continued to manufacture Spud cigarettes for domestic sales until 1963.

And what became of Hughes? He went on a two year spending spree, blew the $90,000 on cars and airplanes, and spent much of the rest of his life trying to invent another unique cigarette.


“Mint That Kills: The Curious Life of Menthol Cigarettes,” by Tom McNichol, Atlantic Magazine, March 25, 2011
Come Up to the Kool Taste: African American Upward Mobility and the Semiotics of Smoking Menthols
by Sarah S. Lochlann Jain, published in ‘Public Culture’ Spring 2003, 15 [2]


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Drop a stone upon her grave and make a wish

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 27, 2015

Ten miles north of Dahlonega, GA, at the intersection of US 19 and State Road 60, is a stone pile in a triangle where the roads cross, known as the Stone Pile Gap. “This pile of stones marks the grave of a Cherokee princess, Trahlyta,” reads the Georgia Historical Commission marker standing guard.

“According to legend her tribe, living on Cedar Mountain north of here, knew the secret of the magic springs of eternal youth from the Witch of Cedar Mountain. Trahlyta, kidnapped by a rejected suitor, Wahsega, was taken far away and lost her beauty. As she was dying, Wahsega promised to bury her near her home and the magic springs. Custom arose among the Indians and later the Whites to drop stones, one for each passerby, on her grave for good fortune. The magic springs, now known as Porter Springs, lie 3/4 miles northeast of here.”
the grave of a Cherokee princess, Trahlyta
Twice the Georgia Department of Highways has attempted to move the grave during road construction. Both times at least one person died in an accident while moving the pile. Legend says that removing a stone from the pile will bring the curse of the Witch of Cedar Mountain upon the thief. The stone grave remains today in the same place it has always been.

The springs in question were (again!) discovered in 1868 by Joseph H. McKee, a Methodist preacher, on land then belonging to Basil S. Porter. McKee and William Tate, a Baptist preacher, tested the water (in their fashion) for minerals and advertised their findings. People came from miles around pitching tents or taking home gallons of water, and claimed cures of rheumatism, dyspepsia, dropsy and many other diseases, even leprosy.


Sources: “Inns and Inn Keepers of the Gold Fields of Lumpkin County, Georgia,” by Sylvia Gailey Head, Gold Rush Gallery, Inc., 2001


Related Posts: “The Legend of Uktena”

4 Responses

  • Interesting story. And kind of cool. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Lynne Tipton says:

    Very interesting story, however, there were no such thing as a Cherokee Princess. She may have been the daughter of a chief, but they were not called, Princess.

  • Akecheta Walkswiththewoods says:

    There is not or has never been such thing as “Cherokee Princess”

  • Mark E says:

    Well, at least it’s not another “leaping Indians” story, e.g.: Maid-of-the-Mist,Sautee/Nacoochee, etc. I can’t located the quote from Vine Deloria Jr., the Lakota activist and writer, but something along the lines of “One can scarcely imagine that one could traverse this land without being struck by frustrated Indian lovers leaping to their deaths.”

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Book excerpt: ‘Images of America: Mount Mitchell’

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 24, 2015


Please welcome guest authors Jonathan Howard Bennett and David Biddix. Bennett, a national park ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway, graduated from Wake Forest University, where he studied history and archaeology. Biddix is an instructional technologist with Western Piedmont Community College. Both are natives of the Toe River valley and are instrumental in historic preservation projects in the area. Images for their newly released book ‘Images of America: Mount Mitchell’ have been acquired from local families and historical archives.


Newspaperman Bill Sharpe once referred to Mount Mitchell as “the old mountain of mystery and death.” Over the course of its history, the lofty peak has certainly earned this appellation. Mysteries shroud the mountain like the fog that clings to its summit, and death often stalks those who dared assail its forested slopes. The mountain claimed the life of Elisha Mitchell, the man who pushed some of this mystery aside by proclaiming it to be the king of the East’s tallest peaks to the world beyond. Its summit holds the bones of its namesake in his earthly grave to this day, making the mountain itself his tombstone.

No one knows the exact date that mankind first laid eyes on the mountain, but archaeological evidence indicates that this occurred during the last Ice Age, roughly 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, when Native American hunting parties passed through the area in search of animals now long extinct. History is also silent about which of these Native Americans first braved the mountain’s thick tangle of vegetation to reach its summit. It is also unknown whether this early explorer made it back down the slopes in one piece. Historians and archaeologists cannot say with 100- percent confidence what these Native Americans called the mountain either. But they can tell us something about their lives.

book cover

The mountain provided game for the hunters and wild food crops for the gatherers. Finding the river valleys surrounding the peak to be pleasant places to live with abundant food and resources, they eventually established permanent villages. Mount Mitchell and the entire Black Mountain Range fell firmly within the territory claimed by the Cherokee. Spending their lives in the great mountain’s shadow, it entered their imagination and became firmly entrenched in their mythology. Elders recounted stories of the mountain around the campfires to their children and grandchildren.

A few of those stories survived into the modern era; one of them bears a striking resemblance to Aesop’s fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare. In the Cherokee version of the tale, the deer loved to brag about his speed to anyone and everyone. He was so proud and believed that he could best any of the other animals in the forest in a footrace. Rising to meet his challenge, much to the deer’s amusement, was an unlikely contender, the terrapin. They agreed to race and selected a course that ran over Mount Mitchell along the crest of the Black Mountains.

Despite accepting the challenge, the terrapin knew that he could not defeat the deer with speed alone. So, he held a council of the terrapin tribe and decided to enlist his fellow terrapins to help him cheat. He stationed the other terrapins on each peak in the Black Mountain Range with strict instructions of what to do. When it came time for the race, the terrapin and the deer met at the starting line on the first peak in the range. The signal was given, and the deer took off like an arrow loosed from a bow—leaving the terrapin far behind.

The deer charged down the ridgeline and started toward the next peak in the range. To the deer’s amazement, he saw the terrapin give a shout and cross over the peak well in front of him. The deer’s determination grew, and he churned his legs even harder. Crossing the top of the peak, he heard another shout and saw the terrapin cresting the next peak in line. Fearing that he was far behind, the deer ran as hard as he possibly could to catch up, but when he crested the following peak, once again he heard a shout and saw the terrapin cross the subsequent peak.

This process repeated across each peak of the mountains until the deer, humiliated and convinced the race was hopeless, simply quit and walked back to the starting line, finding the original terrapin had never left. Demanding an explanation, the terrapin explained his scheme of using his fellow tribesmen and informed the deer that the mind could accomplish what was often beyond the reach of the swiftest legs.

The opening of the Blue Ridge Parkway and NC Highway 128 in the 1930s and 1940s helped make access to Mount Mitchell available to more people. This photo shows Mitchell in the background while a car climbs to the top of Buck Creek Gap in Yancey County, heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a trip to the top of the mountain.

The opening of the Blue Ridge Parkway and NC Highway 128 in the 1930s and 1940s helped make access to Mount Mitchell available to more people. This photo shows Mitchell in the background while a car climbs to the top of Buck Creek Gap in Yancey County, heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a trip to the top of the mountain.


Other than a few Cherokee legends and what excavations of Cherokee villages at Cane River Middle School and Warren Wilson College have told us, the lives of the first people to live at the foot of Mount Mitchell largely remain a mystery.

Other mysteries surround the mountain; research conducted by Dr. David Moore, Dr. Christopher Rodning, and Dr. Robin Beck on the Catawba Indian village of Joara have proven that Spanish conquistadors reached the area in 1540, narrowing down the list of potential candidates for the first European to see Mount Mitchell. None of the surviving Spanish records mention Mount Mitchell, but their route from Joara west would have taken them through the river valleys surrounding the mountain within sight of the peak. The identity of the expedition member to see the mountain first will never be known, but it may have been Hernando de Soto himself.

The first European to reach the summit of Mount Mitchell is also unknown. By the mid-1760s, long hunters from the colonies of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina were frequenting the area. It is possible one of these men made it to the summit. One of them, “Hunting” John McDowell, built a homestead within sight of the mountain at Pleasant Gardens in McDowell County—perhaps he climbed the peak. British and American armies both came within sight of the mountain during the Revolutionary War, but there is no record of either of them sending any soldiers to its summit. Regardless, by the time French royal botanist André Michaux collected plants from its slopes in the 1790s, his local guides were familiar enough with the peak that they had no trouble leading him there.

Elisha Mitchell is the subject of several mysteries connected with the mountain. While it is undisputed that Mitchell was the first man to scientifically establish that the tallest peak in eastern North America lay in the Black Mountains, there is some doubt both today and at the time as to whether he ever actually set foot on the peak of Mount Mitchell itself. The poor professor lost his life trying to clear that mystery up.

Elisha Mitchell's grave received its first marker in the 1880s when a white bronze obelisk was installed at a cost of $400. The monument only stood about 30 years before it was destroyed in a storm. Featured in this photo is a temporary gravestone that was installed for approximately 20 years before his cairn was cemented closed and a bronze marker installed at the dedication of the first stone tower atop the mountain in 1927.

Elisha Mitchell’s grave received its first marker in the 1880s when a white bronze obelisk was installed at a cost of $400. The monument only stood about 30 years before it was destroyed in a storm. Featured in this photo is a temporary gravestone that was installed for approximately 20 years before his cairn was cemented closed and a bronze marker installed at the dedication of the first stone tower atop the mountain in 1927.


Other mysteries associated with the mountain include airplane crashes, the mountain’s role in World War II, the whereabouts of a Hollywood movie filmed on the mountain, the massive death of its trees, and even one of the few unsolved cases of a UFO sighting that was reported to Project Blue Book. This book only scratches the surface of Mount Mitchell’s many mysteries and fascinating history, but it is hoped that the reader will find something of the “old mountain of mystery and death” that inspires further investigation—just beware of Mitchell’s fate.



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Kentucky’s fotched-on women

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 23, 2015

In the late 1800s, the Progressive Movement was sweeping the industrialized cities of the North. One of the key features of this urban social and political reform movement was the creation of settlement houses and schools to meet the needs of economically deprived families.

May Stone. Collection Hindman Settlement School.

May Stone. Collection Hindman Settlement School.

Beginning in 1899, two intrepid young women, Katherine Pettit and May Stone, spent three summers in social settlement work in Kentucky at Camp Cedar Grove, Camp Industrial, and Sassafras Social Settlement.

They became educational lamplighters in an area of eastern Kentucky where there was little opportunity for boys to get jobs and education was considered superfluous for girls, who often married at thirteen.

Loaded with books, games, and a small portable organ, they proceeded to hold “school” for the people of the mountains. The activities of the summer camp were practical in nature—crafts, reading, singing, learning to make biscuits and bread.

In the summer of 1900 Stone and Pettit pitched their tents on the side of a hill overlooking the small village of Hindman, KY, the county seat of the newly created Knott County. When the summer ended, local leader Solomon Everage implored the two women, “quare fotched-on women from the level land,” to remain and establish a permanent industrial school in the Troublesome Creek area.

“Fotched-on” women was a colloquialism peculiar to eastern Kentucky. It refers to women reformers–missionaries, nurses, and teachers–who came to work among the mountain people during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Katherine Pettit. Collection Pine Mountain Settlement School.

Katherine Pettit. Collection Pine Mountain Settlement School.

Solomon, age 80, watched the two women quietly for hours before he introduced himself to them, saying “Women my name is Solomon Everage. Some calls me the granddaddy of Troublesome. Since I was a little shirttail boy hoeing corn on the hillsides, I’ve looked up Troublesome and down Troublesome for someb’dy to come in and larn us sumpin.

“My chilehood pass and my manhood and now my head is abloomin’ for the grave and still nobody hain’t come. I groed up ignorant and mean. My offsprings wuss and my grands wusser and what my greats will be if something hain’t done to stop the meanness of their maneuvers, God only knows. When I heard the tale of you two women I walked the 22 miles across the ridges to search out the truth of it. I am now persuaded you are the ones I have looked for all my lifetime. Come over to Troublesome women and do for us what you are doing hyre.”

The pleas resonated with Stone and Pettit, and so, in the words of Stone, “… with little experience and less money, we started a school.” In 1902, at the forks of Troublesome Creek, the Hindman Settlement School was born.


“A Portrait of a Collaborative ARSI Team in Knott County, Kentucky” By Elizabeth Horsch at
“History and Families-Knott County, Kentucky,” published by Turner Publishing Co., 1995, Paducah, KY

related post: “Educating the Melungeons”

Katherine+Pettit May+Stone settlement+schools Hindman+Settlement+School Troublesome+Creek+KY appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

One Response

  • Janet Smart says:

    Great post. I had never heard of the term ‘fotched-on women before. this reminds me of the book, Christy. Where she went into the mountains to teach in the early 1900s.

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