The History of Pesticides◀ Back To Blog
November 30, 2020
Pesticides can be a bit of a scary word. It elicits the mental image of dangerous chemicals, causing potential health problems for people and pets, all in the name of getting rid of some frustrating pests that are plaguing your home. But that’s a bit of an old school mindset on pesticides, as the modernization of pesticides has truly revolutionized the safety of these pest-preventing products. With that in mind, we thought it might be interesting to take a condensed look back- and a look forward- at the history of pesticides, to see where they came from, how they’ve changed, and what the future holds.
The Origins of Pesticides
Pesticides naturally started off right around the time that agriculture started, using simple tools and chemicals that occurred naturally, because at that time that was simply all that was available. This meant using things like sulfur, heavy metals, and salt to try and ward off crop-eating pests from all important food sources. Sulfur in particular was a favorite pesticide of this time period, with the burning of sulfur acting as a way to make the breathing process of any nearby pests more difficult, thus encouraging them to stay away. In liquid and powder form, sulfur was also used to reduce mold growth.
The Birth of Chemical Pesticides
By the 19th century, people figured out ways to make pesticides a bit more effective, and that included things getting chemical. Chemicals were drawn from plants and then purified in a lab. This led to the development of the first true insecticide/rodenticide, known as “Paris Green” which was distributed and sold in many countries. Further blending and synthesis of different types of chemicals continued throughout the 19th century, with more and more efficient types of pesticides becoming available to regular consumers for home use, and ultimately leading to and encouraging the pesticide innovations that took place in the 20th century.
The Pesticide Boom
The 20th century provided a massive leap forward in both the creation of thousands of new types of pesticides and the availability of these pesticides. Perhaps most famously, 1939 marked the discovery of DDT as an effective pesticide by Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller. This Nobel Prize-winning discovery became vital to the mitigation of insect-spread disease in the second World War, and would remain in widespread use worldwide until the 1980s. However, despite the promises of DDT as a sort of catch-all pesticide, it became clear that it, among many other pesticides developed in the mid-20th century, had detrimental effects on the environment, which led to their ban in the United States in the 1970s. This once prominent pesticide is now hardly used in the 21st century.
Pesticides in the modern era function much differently than they did in the eras passed. Time, research, and regulation has allowed new kinds of pesticides to be developed that are much less harmful to the environment, and instead opt for a more highly-targeted approach. These new pesticides tend to focus on specific types of pests--for example, a pesticide that only targets termites. This new wave of pesticides is not only more efficient but also safer for humans and pets and more environmentally responsible.
In need of safe, effective pest control? If you’re in the Capital Region of New York, Thomas Pest Services can help. Contact us with your pest problem and we will get in touch with you ASAP to create a pest control plan that works for you!