The History of Bug Zappers

Electric bug zappers have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Once Thomas Edison began to harness the power of electricity, other scientists and inventors tried to put electricity to many other uses including zapping bugs.

Earliest Recorded Device

An issue of Popular Mechanics published in October of 1911 had an advertisement for an electric “fly trap.” The device uses all the elements that today’s modern bug zappers employ including an electric light to lure bugs and an electric grid where the flying, biting insects are zapped. This early insect zapper  was created by two never-named Denver entrepreneurs. However, its price tag was extremely high making it out of the reach of the mass public and its marketing failed to produce any acceptable results.

First Patent

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office credited the first patent for a bug zapper to William F. Folmer and Harrison L Chapin in 1934 as Patent No. 1,962,439.

Not Much Change

Nothing much has really changed in the way a modern bug zapper operates compared to the first one patented. The concept remains the same – a light lures flying insects to it where the insect is zapped with an electric charged emitted through a grid of charged wires. The name “zapper” is an invention for marketing since the bugs are electrocuted. Bug zapper sounds better than bug electrocution device. Some adaptations and additions have been made to the original function due to studies that revealed the original design did not attract all insects. Many biting insects are not attracted to the light, so manufacturers had in recent years added additional chemical attractants including Octenel and carbon dioxide sprays to attract these insects.

Technology Tune-ups

Technology has paved the way for some added features to the modern day zapper. With the advent of LED technology (Light Emitting Diode), bug zappers are installed with more energy efficient bulbs. Additionally, the use of reliable rechargeable batteries has been introduced in the past decade leading to better power efficiency. Furthermore, many designs now combine the use of outdoor lighting with bug zapping. Many of these devices are now solar powered as well, thus decreasing a need to burden the monthly household utility bill. Many solar powered devices also contain what is called a “sundown sensor” that will turn a device on when night time begins to fall.


The first entrepreneurs of bug zapper technology probably never thought about the portability issue. Once again, modern technology has contributed to portable bug zappers. One hand held device mimics the look of a tennis club and is, in effect, an electric fly swatter where the user swats and a bug that gets hit with an electric charged and thus zapped. Also, bug zappers are now designed much like a room deodorizer where it is plugged into a room’s  electric outlet and also acts as a night light. These units can be moved to whatever room with another electric outlet to serve as the power source.

Plug in bug zapper/night lights can be bought in packages offering several in the same design and color.