An Ingenious Fly Trap

Fly trap (ready for action).

Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. II No. 6, September 1938

by Lawrence B. Romaine

“The Edson Revolving Fly Trap, Patent Applied for. Hudson, Mass. The Edson Manufacturing Company, Sole Manufacturers, Boston Office, 53 High Street. Directions. Mix a little vinegar with slow molasses and put upon the center of each side of the cylinder in a straight line one-half of an inch wide, stopping three-fourths of an inch from each end. Wind up and place where desired. The flies, alighting upon the dry space and feeding from the edges of their food supply, will be slowly but surely car­ried to inevitable destruction. To kill the flies, unhook the wire cage and pour hot water through the screening or dust some insect powder among them and when dead remove from the bottom of the cage which is pivoted. The dead flies are valuable food for poultry, fish in aquariums and some varieties of cage birds. Do not permit the cylinder to become so thickly coated as to clog the scraper causing too great a strain on the movement, but clean occasionally. Oil the upright spiral with a drop of sewing machine oil when required.”

The two cuts show this delightful contraption and its various parts. If the brain that conceived it and put it together had turned to explosives and the tools of warfare, perhaps the Civil War would have entirely wiped out the United States!

Fly trap (ready for action).

I shall try to explain each part from the cut showing the various sections. The main box contains clock-works that run the hollow, oblong, so-called “cylinder” on which the flies are tempted with molasses, and are par­titioned from the “prison”. The “pris­on” or rest of the main box, where the flies find themselves scraped off tl1e cylinder and caged in a box, is square. The cylinder fits into its place in slots. one end connecting with the clock-works. It is slightly depressed in the center of each surface, so that the molasses will not gum up the scraper, if the directions are followed and the bait not put on too thickly. As the cylinder revolves, the edge of each of its four surfaces just misses the up­per edge of the convex glass at the left side of the main box. Hence the flies, feeding on the various surfaces, are carried under the glass before they notice that the whole thing is a snare and a delusion and that there is no Utopia after all. I must confess that l wasted many an hour last summer in the kitchen watching this fascinating contrivance and its sinister work. IT DOES CATCH FLIES. Some of them are so intrigued by the slow moving merry­-go-round which they find themselves on that they stay right on until the scraper takes its toll and leaves them in utter darkness. There is but one escape from the dungeon. This is found in a small opening, enclosed with a cone of wire mesh, that leads into the screen cage at the right end. Once in the cage there is no more to do but take off the cage and boil them and feed them to whatever you will, fish, fowl, or canaries, as directed.

My explanation is anything but scholarly and I hope my readers will be able to follow the attempt. l thought of several improvements that I should like to be able to suggest to the inventor if he were available. When the flies are caught in the main box, a few of them, being discerning fellows, can catch a glimmer of light through the slits in which the cylinder and scraper revolve and wend their way to freedom. I’ll admit that only a few of them seem to be real thinkers, but it is nevertheless a serious draw­back, which should have been detected. Another trouble is that, when the fes­tive board is quite full and there are many others trying to catch the train, there is too much fighting and con­fusion. This takes their minds off their meal and they perceive the approach­ing edge of the glass and leave. This is very disconcerting to the prospec­tive chicken-farmer and fish fancier. I would suggest that the whole ma­chine be made about two feet square, giving space for a cylinder that could accommodate its guests more ade­quately. This is true of hotels and eating houses all over the world. Peo­ple and flies do not like to wait for their food.

To sum up, we all have our hobbies and various time-wasting amusements. I have discovered nothing here for the collector or the student of early American industry. I have merely tried to explain what I consider one of the most amusing gadgets ever invented and I recommend it to one and all. For entertainment, it beats the race track and the dog track and is much, much cheaper. ( On second thought, there was one afternoon when I lost a few pennies betting on certain flies and whether we would get them or not.) However, the inventing of such gadgets was an industry, and pushing them out to the public, just as it is now, was enterprise. Though I have no records of the output of the Edson Manufacturing Co., I do not doubt they made many other interest­ing things.

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1 Response

  1. Gary Hammond says:

    I own a similar looking Fly Trap, but it predates Romaine’s by 13 years! It too has a clockwork mechanism, and is marked “PATENTED NOV. 26. 1872 BY CHAPEL & HUBBARD PITTSFIELD. MASS”. Addison M. Chapel & James G. Hubbard, of Pittsfield, Mass., Patented their “Improvement in Fly-Traps” on Nov. 26, 1872, Patent # 133,354. You can’t beat 19th century American Ingenuity!

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