I Smell A Rat

Dept of Health & Human Services, Susan Langenhennig

1914, New Orleans. The Public Health Service, created in 1902, helped suppress an outbreak of bubonic plague by mobilizing this team of rat-catchers to eradicate the filthy beasts which spread the disease. Seems like backbreaking work to me, one that would not necessitate a hat and tie.

Per nola.com,

An army of 380 workers swept across the city to carry out the campaign. In a single week, they inspected 6,500 railcars and 4,200 buildings, fumigated 101 ships, trapped 20,000 rodents, laid nearly 300,000 poison baits and discovered 17 infected rats.

Using good scientific protocols, workers recorded data for each trapped rat, and when a laboratory analysis identified an infected specimen, its point of origin was subjected to a scorched-earth campaign of fumigation, burning, and in some cases, complete leveling.. Tactics like these went on daily, citywide, for months.

Ground Zero in the geography of rats proved to be the Stuyvesant Docks, where that first infected specimen had been found two years earlier. Here, mechanical conveyors transferred Midwestern grain among railroad cars, ships and elevators. Coupled with the warm fresh water of the nearby Mississippi River and ample nesting opportunities, the Stuyvesant elevators were a veritable rat nirvana. The campaign made them into a rat graveyard.

Susan Langenhennig, workers preparing rat poison

Death to the Black Death!

Bonus rat fun fact: Cagney never actually said, “You dirty rat.”

Champion Ratkiller DeGlopper



In 1944, rats were ravaging farms, gnawing into sill beams, eating poultry and eggs and consuming livestock feed. Rats were estimated to destroy $45 worth of food a year, at a time when chicken and livestock feed were hard to come by.

Little Robert De Glopper was made of sturdier stock than children these days, and consequently made himself quite a profit at 3 cents per dead rat. Ten rats an hour would match the minimum wage of 30 cents.


Can you imagine if today’s town clerks had to count rat tails?


War bond prizes were given to the boy or girl who 1) killed the most rats, 2)the heaviest rats, or 3) the ones with the longest tails. Such fun before TV and video games existed! Even dogs and cats were cited for meritorious work.

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