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Vintage Shoo-fly devices | Funny fly traps and devices used in the 1800s

Updated on January 26, 2014
Shoo Fly Panels hung over the dining room table
Shoo Fly Panels hung over the dining room table
Shoe Fly tails hanging down would swish back and forth on the hinged panels to shoo flies
Shoe Fly tails hanging down would swish back and forth on the hinged panels to shoo flies
A glass fly trap used in the food prep area
A glass fly trap used in the food prep area
Another style of glass fly trap used on a dining room table
Another style of glass fly trap used on a dining room table
Screen wire used in cabinet doors to place fresh pies and baked goods
Screen wire used in cabinet doors to place fresh pies and baked goods
Another shoo fly device used in a log cabin
Another shoo fly device used in a log cabin
Vintage bed with fly netting
Vintage bed with fly netting
Screen domes used to cover food
Screen domes used to cover food
Early screen door and screen framed window covers were in use in the late 1800s into the 20th century
Early screen door and screen framed window covers were in use in the late 1800s into the 20th century
Vintage flyswatter
Vintage flyswatter
Vintage Homemade Fly Trap
Vintage Homemade Fly Trap

Instead of keeping the flies out of the home the focus was to just shoo the flies away.

Although screen wire was manufactured in the early 1800s for sifters and sieves used in the kitchen, it was not until 1868 when someone came up with the idea of attaching screen wire on a wooden frame and placing it over a widow.

Even odder it would take another 19 years for someone to invent the hinged screened door in 1887

Most will recognize an antique fly swatter, but many may not realize the elaborate contraptions that were made by our ancestors to keep flies out of their homes and food.

Instead of keeping the flies out of the home the focus was to “shoo” the flies away or to trap them.

Apparently mosquitoes weren't as big as a problem as flies in this period of time in areas away from the wetlands.

Germs and things that carry diseases were not even yet discovered in the 1800s, but they did know that flies needed to be kept off of food items.

Screen wire was used to cover early cabinets used to store pies and other food items. These cabinets were called pie safes.

Screen wire was also made into small round domes to cover pies and open serving dishes.

Before they even thought of using screen wire, frames would be built and hinged to the ceilings over dining room tables.

The frames would be made of wood panels or canvas stretched over the frames. These panels were called “shoo flies”, which probably originated the name shoo fly name.

These frames hung down from the ceilings right over the kitchen food prep work areas and dining room tables.

It was common to add a tail, a single sheet of fabric, on to the panels to better shoo the flies away.

The panels were attached to a rope and pulley system that ran over to an adjacent wall.

If it was a large dining table such as in the pictures of an old Inn, several of the devices would be hung down and hooked in tandem to ropes.

As people ate their meals a person, most likely a servant, would stand and pull the rope up and down to swing the panels back and forth to shoo the flies from the table.

When someone says shoo-fly many might visualize a homemade favorite custard pie that is named shoo-fly pie.

Others might remember a jingle, an old time dance or a game that went by the name "shoo fly", others just visualize the name associated with a fly strip or name of a pesticide.

One thing for sure flies were a problem with open windows, and homes surrounded by horses and livestock.

The screen dome concept is still being made for picnics and camping to cover food dishes.

Fly swatters are still being made but from plastic. The old fashioned ones were made of leather with a wire frame handle or with screen wire.

Flies are actually very smart and constantly on guard knowing that they could be smashed at any moment by a hand or flyswatter.

In order to catch a fly off guard you have to wait for them to land and then when they become comfortable they will start to work their front legs as if they are get ready to dig in.

It is at that moment when the quick snap of a fly swatter is most apt to nab one.

Fly traps were also made using screen wire. The typical construction was built like a pyramid or cone with another smaller sized cone built inside.

The bottom was left open under the inside cone with the very top of that cone left open. Scraps of food items would be placed inside for bait.

As the flies tired to reach the bait they crawled on the screen wire until they found the open bottom.

Once inside that cone they continued to find their way up and outside the smaller hole to where they were then trapped inside the large cone.

A similar concept of a fly trap was made from glass. The flies were attracted to bait and entered the bottom to become trapped in the larger compartment.

Beds were often covered with fly netting hung from the ceilings with a ring or hung over the upper post structure.

Pictures are courtesy of Cottage Craft Works .com A back-to-basics self-sufficient online store.

Amish Shoo-Fly Pie Recipe

Cast your vote for Shoo-Fly Pie

Amish Shoo-Fly Pie Cook Time

Cook time: 40 min
Ready in: 40 min
Yields: 2 8" Pies

Shoo-Fly Pie Ingredients

  • 2 c. flour
  • 4 T. lard
  • 1-1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 c. karo syrup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1-1/2 c. hot water
  • 2 t. soda, dissolved in extra hot water
  • 2 unbaked pie crust

Amish Shoo-Fly Pie

  1. Mix first three ingredients for crumbs. Take out 2 c. of crumbs for top of pie. Add Karo, eggs, and hot water to remaining crumbs. Mix well add dissolved soda to mixture.
  2. Pour into two unbaked pie crust. Put crumbs on top. Cut through with knife. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, and then turn down the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes
  3. Amish Shoo-Fly Pie recipe from the Amish cookbook From Alma's Kitchen. Amish cookbooks are available at Cottage Craft Works .com

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    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 

      5 years ago from America

      Very interesting hub I enjoyed it. Love all the photos. Voted up and more.

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