DDT: The dangerous old insecticide that used to be everywhere – even embedded in wallpaper (1940s)

DDT is good for me old ad

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Carrying on in humanity’s long tradition of integrating dangerous things into our everyday lives before really understanding the risks — such as with X-Rays, radium, asbestos and lead — we add a pesticide to the list.

The insecticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was introduced in the 1940s, just after World War II, and was successful at combatting malaria, typhus, and other insect-borne diseases.

It was originally thought to be safe for people and pets. As such, it was marketed like you see on this page — with happy cartoon characters and family-friendly products.

Vintage 1940s wallpaper with DDT insecticide embedded

As we eventually discovered, the poison was bad for people and animals, too.

The modern-day EPA notes that, in the late 1950s and 1960s, there was mounting evidence of the pesticide’s environmental and toxicological effects (not to mention that it was also becoming less effective on agricultural pests).

In 1972, DDT was effectively banned in the US. “Since then, studies have continued, and a relationship between DDT exposure and reproductive effects in humans is suspected, based on studies in animals,” the EPA says. “As a result, today, DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen by U.S. and international authorities.”

Below, we’ve gathered up some vintage DDT promotional materials — all of which are pretty shocking, in hindsight!

‘DDT is good for me-e-e!’ This old ad said it, so it must be true (1947)

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.

ALSO SEE: Inside vintage 1950s grocery stores & old-fashioned supermarkets

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.

KNOX OUT 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’!

KNOX OUT 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.

KNOX OUT 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.

Vintage DDT is good for me-e-e ad (1947)

MORE: Drop dead Mr Fly! Gulfspray vintage insect killer ads from the ’50s skipped the small talk

DDT Wallpaper for children’s rooms, with Disney characters (1947)

Protect your children against disease-carrying insects!

Kills flies, mosquitos, ants… as well as moths, bedbugs, silverfish and other household pests after contact!

MEDICAL SCIENCE KNOWS many common insects breed in filth, live in filth and carry disease. Science also recognizes the dangers that are present when these disease-carrying insects invade the home.

Actual tests have proved that one fly can carry as many as 6,600,000 bacteria! Imagine the health hazard — especially to children — from flies seriously suspected of transmitting such diseases as scarlet fever, measles, typhoid, diarrhea… even dread polio!

Some types of mosquitos carry malaria and yellow fever. And any mosquito bite is painful and easily infected when scratched.

Vintage Trimz DDT wallpaper

ALSO SEE: Vintage 1940s wallpaper: 150 real samples of popular old patterns & colors

NON-HAZARDOUS to children or adults, to pets or clothes. Certified to be absolutely safe for home use. Tested and commended by Parents’ Magazine.

GUARANTEED effective against disease-carrying insects for 1 year. Actual tests have proven the insect-killing properties still effective after 2 years of use.

NO SPRAYS! NO LIQUIDS! NO POWDERS! So convenient, so safe because the DDT is fixed to the paper. It can’t rub off!

BEAUTIFUL! “Jack and Jill” or “Disney Favorites” — gay new patterns that protect as they beautify a child’s room.

DDT CEILING PAPERS: Extra protection for your children’s room—for every other room in the house. Choice of two tints.

READY-PASTED! Just dip in water and hang!

Anyone can put Trimz Wallpaper up without help or previous experience. Millions have done it — proved it’s quick, clean, easy!

Nothing to get ready — no tools, paste or muss. Just cut strips to fit, dip in water and hang. It’s dry in 20 minutes! Guaranteed to stick — guaranteed to please or money back.

INEXPENSIVE! You can protect your child for $8 to $12 — depending on size of room.

Trimz DDT Children’s Room Wallpaper, Trimz DDT Cedar Closet Wallpaper now available at Department, Chain, Hardware, Paint, and Wallpaper stores everywhere.

DDT products knock out household insects (1947)

Now — from Du Pont research — two outstanding household insecticides! Use them to rid your home of flies, mosquitoes, roaches, bedbugs and many other insect pests. They’re easy to use! They’re safe to use! Both are quick-acting, long-lasting!


This new product contains DDT and rotenone to kill insects . . . Du Pont “Fermate “Zerlate fungicides to stop and prevent diseases. It is specially formulated by Du Pont to control most insects and diseases at the same time! Use as dust or spray … on most vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and ornamentals. Handy dust gun and larger economy sizes.


For screens, closets, walls, etc. Brush it on screens! Spray it on other surfaces! Quickly dries to an invisible film that knocks out insects when they light! Contains fast-acting Pyrethrins. Often retains killing power for months! In pint, quart and gallon sizes.


SEE MORE: WWII Victory gardens from the 1940s: How people planted them, and how you can grow your own even now

Vintage DDT products knock out household insects (1947)

Warnings about the use of DDT

Newspaper stories, clockwise from left: June 30, 1949; January 13, 1969; May 20, 1969

DDT dangerous - vintage newspaper stories

ALSO SEE: 47 dangerous old playgrounds that our great-grandparents somehow survived

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