The early colonists first introduced bed bugs into the Americas. Colonial writings of the early 18th century documented severe bed bug problems in the English colonies and in Canada, but not in Indian villages.
Old sailing ships were notoriously infested with bed bugs, some so much so that some ships forbade passengers and colonists from bringing bedding on board.
During the early 20th century, it was a rare American indeed who had never been bitten or at least seen a bed bug. Bed bugs were rated among the top three pests in and around structures.
Surveys showed that as many as 1/3 of all residences were infested in some cities. In lower income areas, virtually all residences had bed bugs at one time or another. In these areas, bed bugs were public enemy number one.
The Impact of DDT and Other Insecticides Then a surprising thing happened. The bed bugs disappeared; at least in developed countries. By the 1950s, American entomologists (insect specialists) were hard put to find live bed bugs for laboratory work. What happened?
DDT happened. Bed bugs had finally met their match. DDT would be sprayed or dusted on and around the bed, and control would last for a year or more.
Although, DDT resistance appeared within a few years, control remained effective with the other chlorinated hydrocarbons, particularly lindane, and eventually the organophosphate insecticide malathion.
By the middle 1950s, bed bugs had changed from a major household pest to an occasional pest in socially depressed settings or other unusual circumstances. A rare bed bug problem might show up in shelters, prisons, youth hostels, or cabins but almost never in homes or hotels.