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Awesome Men Throughout History: Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine

As we all know, public life used to be disgusting. Before the advent of things like penicillin, indoor plumbing and below-ground sewers, cities were dirty and stank to high heaven and disease was rampant thanks to all the rats and flies everywhere. It was horrible. Good old days, my foot.

But gradually, Western civilization became cleaner and more sanitary, and the average citizen became much less likely to catch dysentery and poop himself to death. It’s hard to track when and how that shift occurred, but there were a few key people responsible for driving public health efforts forward. One of them is this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History, Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine.

The first of Samuel’s accomplishments worth mentioning is that mustache. Just look at it. A work of art, I’d say.

Anyway, Samuel was a doctor who studied medicine at the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery and moved to Dodge City, Kansas in the 1880s. Dodge City was known then as ?the Wickedest City in America? and ?the Sodom of the West? due to its lawlessness, violence, and political corruption, and because it was a gross hellhole where one could have probably caught the typhus from breathing too deeply. Still, Crumbine established a practice there, and his efforts to introduce basic hygiene to Dodge City were successful enough that, generations later, the character of ?Doc Adams? on Gunsmoke was based on him.

In 1899, Crumbine was Crumbine was appointed to the State Board of Health, and rededicated his career to improving public health. He invented the flyswatter in 1905 as a way to encourage people to kill disease-spreading flies, and campaigned against ?common? drinking cups in trains and public buildings because of their role in spreading tuberculosis.

He also came up with the ?Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk? campaign, and convinced brick manufacturers to stamp the slogan in bricks that were laid into sidewalks all around the country. ?Spit? was a pretty impolite word back then, so Crumbine’s bricks met with some opposition, but the campaign was ultimately quite successful.

And Crumbine didn’t stop there. He agitated for safe, properly labeled food and drugs, water and sewage sanitary control, and more general increases in public cleanliness, and usually accompanied his admonishments with slogans like ?Bat the Rat,? and the aforementioned ?Swat the Fly.? He was the Ralph Nader of that era, minus the embarrassing, fruitless presidential campaigns.

So the next time you wake up free of spinal meningitis because rats didn’t pee in your drinking water, thank Samuel Crumbine for his contributions to the relatively healthy and salubrious environment we live in today. And if you can grow a mustache as glorious as his, even better.


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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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