Bed bugs in the early 1800s

As noted earlier, bed bugs became plentiful in North America with the coming of European settlers. As a deterrent, beds were often made from sassafras wood and the crevices doused with boiling water, arsenic and sulfur.

This provided only temporary relief. As villages became cities, life became crowded with people and bed bugs from around the globe. Ships and railroads afforded ideal accommodation for the bugs, and rapid transit to where they had not been before.

Hotels and boarding houses were especially buggy, and smitten travelers unwittingly carried them from place to place in their trunks and satchels. Vigilant travelers learned to pull beds away from walls and immerse the legs in pans of oil.

Others relied on pyrethrum powder: “Dusted between the sheets of a bed, it will protect the sleeper from the most voracious hotel bug.

It is during the late 1800s when the first mentions of the phrase warning against bed bugs appear. “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”  This suggests that the expression could have indeed been an actual  warning, urging people to be on guard against the biting of these pesky creatures.


Basics in Inspection and Detection

Live bed bugs

  • Bed bugs are visible in their adult form.  They are approximately the size of a pencil eraser, red to brown in color, flat and oval in shape
  • .Blood Stains from crushed bugs or Rusty (sometimes dark) spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses and walls.
  • Fecal spots, eggshells and shed skin may be found near their hiding places.
  • An offensive, sweet, musty odor from bed bug scent glands may be detected when infestations are severe.

Eggs / Molts

  • It takes approximately 1 month for the life cycle to go from egg to adult, under ideal conditions.  The nymph will molt  5 times in that month.


Fecal Matter

  •   Fecal spotting tends to appear as not as red blood but instead as dark/black      stains or smears from the digested blood that is excreted.

Blood  Spots

  • The bed bug is unable to digest all of its blood meal and therefore excretes a portion of the undigested blood on the areas where it crawls.  Another event that occurs is that as they are feeding the individual will move around in the bed and squeeze the bed bug between their body and the bedding.


  •  A bed bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow feeding tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place.


Early Destroyers (Exterminators)

Methods of managing bed bugs today can be traced to the first European exterminators. Among the most famous were Tiffin and Son of London, who formed a business back in 1690 to exterminate bed bugs for the wealthy.

The gas-lit sign over their shop read: “May The Destroyers Of Peace Be Destroyed By Us. Bug-Destroyers To Her Majesty.” Recognizing the constant threat of infestation, Tiffin noted: “We do the work by contract, examining the house every year. It’s a precaution to keep the place comfortable as servants are apt to bring bugs in their boxes and clothes.”

Many “secret formulas” over years Claimed to control bed bugs. These advertisements were from the early 1900s.

Tiffin reported finding the most bugs in beds, but cautioned “if left alone they get numerous, climb about the corners of the ceiling, and colonize anywhere they can.”

The Spread of Bedbugs

As civilization expanded, bed bugs spread throughout Europe and Asia, reaching Italy by 100 A.D., China by 600 A.D., and Germany and France in the 1200s and 1400s. Heat generated from sleeping and cooking fires allowed the bugs to live comfortably both in castles of the wealthy and huts of the working class.

The poor, however, suffered the most; an observation made in the 15th century and attributed to a lack of vigilant cleaning: “For they do not breed in beds of which the linen and straw is frequently changed, as in the houses of the rich” (DeAnimalibus Insectes, 1603).

Bed bugs were first reported in England in 1583, but were probably there earlier. Soon after, they hitchhiked their way to the Americas with European explorers and settlers. Aided by commerce, infestations initially arose in bustling seaport towns, appearing farther inland later on.

Treatise on Bedbugs
Title and facing page from Southhall’s 1730 treatise on the bed bug. The book sold for a shilling, while a bottle of his secret “Nonpareil Liquor” bed bug killer cost two.

The History of Bedbugs

ANCIENT ORIGINS. Bed bugs have been biting people since the beginning of recorded time. Studies suggest the bugs first parasitized bats and then humans inhabiting the same caves in the Mediterranean region where civilization began. Most likely, relations between bugs and people were intermittent back then since hunters and herdsmen moved around a lot, making it harder for bed bugs to become established.

Life became easier for the bed dwellers with the formation of villages and cities. Fossilized bed bugs have been unearthed from archaeological sites dating back more than 3,500 years — a time when they were considered both pest and potion. The Egyptians, for example, drank a bed bug cocktail as a cure for snakebite.

Ancient mattressIn a cave in South Africa, archaeologists discovered the layered remains of ancient mattresses from around 77,000 years ago—and if that isn’t interesting enough, it turns out modern humans aren’t the only ones concerned about bugs between the sheets! The ancient sleeping mat’s top layer was made with insect-repelling leaves that scientists believe were used to ward off bed bugs.

5 Ways to stay safe when traveling


Check for Complaints

Before you book any hotel, go online and check for bed bug complaints from other travelers. Trip Advisorthe Bedbug Registry and Just keep in mind that researching a property before your trip won’t guarantee you a pest-free stay since many infestations go unreported.

Inspect the Room

Once you get your room key and step over the threshold, it’s time to get to work. At a bare minimum, you should inspect the mattress (you’ll need to remove the sheets and carefully check the seams), headboard (try removing it from the wall if you can), and side tables by the bed. If there’s a sofa bed, you’ll need to open that up too.

Keep Luggage Away from the Bed

The biggest mistake you can make is to lay your suitcase on the bed and start unpacking your clothes. In fact, you don’t even want to store your bag on the floor. Instead, use the luggage stand. Just make sure to inspect the wooden legs and cloth straps before doing so.

Use Plastic Bags for Laundry

Anything you wear in the hotel room, especially your pajamas, could come in contact with bed bugs. The smartest thing to do is to place all of your dirty laundry in a sealed plastic bag so it doesn’t contaminate your other clothing or your suitcase.

Wash Everything

Once you get home, you should wash and dry (preferably on hot) all of your dirty laundry. For your clean clothing, you can skip the washer and just pop it in the drier.


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