In the 1920s, P. F. Harris, an entomologist waging a personal war with roaches, had an idea: Instead of following the conventional practice of taking an insecticide to the pest, why not lure the pest to the insecticide?
“I would defeat the roach by appealing to the very sense of nature that gave him his protection –– smell.”
From this insight he developed Harris Roach Chow, an ingenious combination of sugar, flour and a special lure to attract the critters, and a large dose of boric acid to kill them. The formula was powerful enough to eliminate the roaches, but benign enough to use around people.
More than 90 years later, it is still an effective weapon for the PF Harris Manufacturing Co., which remains a leader in pest control. Today, under the ownership of Jim Biggs and Dave Rhinehart, PF Harris is America’s oldest EPA-registered company. With more than 55 products, the company provides solutions to treat everything from roaches and bed bugs to scorpions and stink bugs.
Triumph at the White House
Problem solving has a long heritage at PF Harris. In 1924, two years after its founding, the company tackled the Calvin Coolidge White House, which had been overrun for years by roaches and water bugs. Harris’s product was so successful in eliminating the scourge that he was described on the front page of the Washington Times as a “vermin slayer who has just fought a decisive, winning battle with a horde of cockroaches which infested the lower regions of the Executive Mansion.”
Over the course of the next few months Harris took “his final feast” to dozens of government buildings, including the Senate Office Building, the Department of Justice, the Supreme Court and Walter Reed Hospital. Success followed success: “Each superintendent of the various buildings was highly satisfied with the results.”
The company today stays nimble enough to respond to changing market demands, leading the way in the development of numerous products, including natural insect repellents like Swamp Gator® and Swamp Gnat™ which repel biting insects without using deet. Beyond the products it sells, Harris helps customers find easy and economical solutions to pest problems through helpful labeling, instructive website videos and personal advice.
It’s a brand with a reliable past and an innovative future. The company prospered in Washington and Baltimore into the 1940s, when it was moved to Arkansas by P.F. Harris’s daughter. In 1960 it moved again, to Jacksonville, where in 1975 new owner John Owens tried to hire a 25-year-old Jim Biggs to sell his roach tablets. Jim was tempted to join the unique old brand, but he didn’t take the offer. Instead he moved on to Enforcer Products, where Dave Rhinehart became his national sales manager.
In 2008 Biggs and Rhinehart teamed up to buy PF Harris, by now in LaGrange, GA. Its annual sales were about $100,000. The partners moved the equipment (some of it dating to the 1920s) to Alpharetta, and in 2014, to Cartersville, its current headquarters.
Customers drive expansion
Listening to customers and dealers has driven expansion. A company built on roach tablets quickly found a market in bed bugs when it learned that international travelers had become unwitting importers of the pests, thus opening a market for products in cities with international airports. Even taxis carrying those travelers to downtown hotels treat their vehicles for bed bugs with Harris products.
As global commerce brought more containers to U.S. shores, it also brought stink bugs, another market for Harris products. Responsiveness to customer needs even led Harris to develop products for clogged drains.
Throughout its history, PF Harris has catered to the do-it-yourselfer seeking effective solutions to pest problems. That approach has proven as successful as the original roach tablet that’s still on the market.
The vision and hard work of Jim Biggs and Dave Rhinehart have sustained and expanded a venerable brand as PF Harris continues to be a trusted name among millions of homeowners.