A Short History Of Insect Screens

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As we write this, it’s the height of summer and the weather here in the UK is glorious. We love this time of year at Appeal Home Shading, but there’s one aspect that is mildly annoying; the insects. But whilst we’ve had more than one uninvited wasp turning up at a barbecue, we have managed to keep them out of our homes and offices thanks to our range of insect screens. 

These humble inventions are massively popular in America and you’ll find them in homes all over the country, especially in the warmer states. In the past few years, they’ve started to take off here too, and lots of houses in waterfront areas have benefitted from them. We’ve got a few amateur historians working for us and one day, they decided to satisfy their curiosity and look into the history of fly screens. Here’s what they found.

Insect screen doors

The Origins Of Insect Screens

Human beings have been using a variety of methods to keep pests out of their homes for centuries, but the first true insect screens appeared in America during the 1820s. Enterprising businessmen came up with the idea of using wire to stop mosquitoes from entering homes, and the earliest known adverts appeared for them in The American Farmer, a farming journal from Baltimore. 

The idea didn’t take off and insect screens remained as obscure, niche products for several decades. That changed with the outbreak of the American Civil War. A Connecticut-based sieve company called Gilbert And Bennett suffered as they could no longer sell to the southern states, but were saved when one employee came up with an idea. They took the wire mesh from their surplus sieves, painted it to stop it from rusting and sold it for use as a window screen. These early screens were little more than rolls of wire cloth and homeowners had to nail them to their doors and windows, but they sold remarkably well.

The Idea Develops

Inevitably, more companies capitalised on this idea and fly screens started to develop from their basic origins. In 1868, a firm called Bayley And McCluskey filed a patent for railroad car screens; specialised windows that stopped cinders and ashes from entering passenger trains. They weren’t specifically designed to stop insects, but this demonstrated how useful screens could be and further embedded them in the public consciousness. 

Painted window screens and frames soon developed, along with the first fly screens for doors. In October 1893, E.T. Burrowes & Co published an ad claiming that they had installed screens for such notable figures as Thomas Edison, P.T. Barnum and General Philip Sheridan, a famous Civil War veteran. Insect screens were no longer a novelty product sold by travelling salesmen to farming communities, they were an established part of home improvement in the United States. 

Insect Screen window

Insect screens for windows and doors were a distinctly American feature, but they’re now spreading throughout the rest of the world. They’ve come a long way since their early days and have even been credited for helping to stop the spread of diseases like typhoid and yellow fever.

And if this little trip through history has got you thinking about installing your own insect screens, you’ve come to the right place. You can find out more about our range of mesh fly screens by downloading a free brochure or you can book a design consultation. Get in touch today and let’s see if we can’t stop mosquitoes from invading your home this summer.