Hear Tracy Briggs narrate this story here:

I don’t know about you, but the flies lately are driving me nuts — in my house, at the gym, in my car. Are they worse this year than last?

As I started writing yesterday from my living room office, one fly kept landing on my computer monitor. One spot. On the upper left side. Why there? Did I adjust the screen one day in that very spot with sugar-encrusted fingers? Maybe. Probably. (We all know I’m a girl who enjoys her cookies.)

Whatever the reason the filthy little beast kept landing there, I just know I was having no luck swatting him with a bunched-up newspaper. Worse yet, I almost toppled my monitor twice with my increasingly intense swings. Realizing that Forum Communications' computer insurance carrier probably doesn’t cover “flyswatter damage,” I ditch the bunched-up paper for the flyswatter hanging in the kitchen.

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When I get back to my desk, the fly was still on my monitor, probably reading my email by now. Then in one fell swoop — BAM! I got him. The little jerk toppled to the carpet — his spindly little legs sticking straight up in the air. Victory was mine.

I had that modest little flyswatter to thank. I started to wonder who is responsible for this glorious invention? The answer, I learned in the newspaper archives, is a man named John L. Bennett, a man who not only brought flyswatters into the world, but another invention that, believe it or not, is even more beloved by many people.

John L. Bennett was from Decatur, Ill., and is connected to a few everyday inventions that make your life a little better. Forum archival photo
John L. Bennett was from Decatur, Ill., and is connected to a few everyday inventions that make your life a little better. Forum archival photo

Who was John L. Bennett?

Bennett was a businessman in Decatur, Ill., where he met a man named R.R. Montgomery. In 1900, Montgomery and his son invented the flyswatter — with basically the same wire mesh design we use today. It works so well because the mesh creates less breeze than a bunched-up paper, thus not giving the fly ample warning of the impending strike.

People loved the design and by 1902, the Montgomerys sold a half-million of them. But it was Bennett who made the invention really fly (pun intended). He bought the patent from the Montgomerys, improved the design and started producing the flyswatters in a factory. The rest is history.

The flyswatter was patented in 1900 by R.R. Montgomery. John L. Bennett bought the patent from him and made slight improvements to keep the wire mesh from fraying. Patent design courtesy of the U.S. Patent Office / Special to The Forum
The flyswatter was patented in 1900 by R.R. Montgomery. John L. Bennett bought the patent from him and made slight improvements to keep the wire mesh from fraying. Patent design courtesy of the U.S. Patent Office / Special to The Forum

Around 30 years later, Bennett, not comfortable to rest on his laurels, gave the American public something else they didn’t know they needed — the beer can.

It was Bennett who told beer industry officials in Milwaukee and St. Louis that they’d save money putting some of their beer in cans versus bottles. They laughed at him. But in 1937, he patented the idea and got the last laugh when his beer can did indeed save the industry money on shipping and bottle breakage.

After his successes promoting fly killing and beer canning, Bennett dabbled in other businesses from coal companies to cemeteries. He even raised champion horses.

John Bennett met with beer industry executives in 1937 and told them they'd save money putting beer in cans instead of bottles. They laughed. But he patented the idea and had the last laugh. Photo courtesy of Gold Coast Breweriana / Special to The Forum
John Bennett met with beer industry executives in 1937 and told them they'd save money putting beer in cans instead of bottles. They laughed. But he patented the idea and had the last laugh. Photo courtesy of Gold Coast Breweriana / Special to The Forum

He died in 1966 in Decatur at the age of 91, surely comfortable feeling the gratitude of millions of Americans fed up with flies and tired of broken beer bottles. Isn’t it interesting to note, on any given late summer evening on the porch, you very well could be holding Bennett’s beer can in one hand and a fly swatter in the other?

So on the 55th anniversary of his death this past summer, crack open a cold one, swat to your heart's content and toast Mr. John L. Bennett. You, sir, have made life a little less irritating for beer-drinking, fly-swatting Americans everywhere.

Which of Bennett's inventions have you used the most?

Thank you for voting!

  • The fly swatter

    28%

  • The beer can

    39%

  • Both equally

    33%