The year was 1933, and upon reflection it was a banner one for the budding professional pest management industry. It was a time when exterminators were slowly making their way over the secret potion, keep-it-close-to-the-vest mindset to sharing tips and tales with one another at meetings.
In recent years, informal gatherings had begun to develop into bona fide meetings, and local associations were emerging in cities such as New York and Philadelphia.
At the same time all these plans were starting to be put in motion, a self-starting Italian immigrant named Al Cossetta was convinced that what this unorganized industry needed was a magazine to unite them in their training, practices and beliefs. Cossetta was brought to the United States as an infant in 1896, and his family settled in St. Paul, MN. By age 11, he had quit school and was working as an errand boy for a large printing company.
Over the years he worked as everything from a orchestra trombone player, a singer, a boxer, a store manager and a book salesman. He studied opera in Chicago for two years, then moved to Kansas City, MO, to work as a salesman for the National Extermination Products Co. Within four months, he became manager of the company.
“My competitors were somewhat concerned, because I was obtaining the cream of the business. It wasn’t because of having more ability or knowledge than my competitors, or of cutting prices, as it was of understanding the customers’ problems, rendering better service and doing just a little more than I was being paid for,” Cossetta wrote in his autobiography, How I Found Success.
“This instilled confidence in customers, and competitors had one grand time trying to ‘chisel’ on any of my contracts.”
Cossetta notes in his memoirs that the 1929 stock market crash took a toll on him and his seven employees. However, they all agreed to a cut in salary instead of closing the doors completely. He also reports that it was a difficult time for him personally, as creditors were pressing him hard, three of his fleet vehicles were broken down and he just received word that both his parents were ill and dying.
The same week, his wife, daughter, father-in-law and sister-in-law were driving from Kansas City to Oklahoma when they were forced off the highway by mobster “Pretty Boy Floyd” and his gang in their Kansas City Union Station massacre getaway.
It caused Cossetta’s wife to roll the car and sent her and her father to the hospital. As his wife recovered, Cossetta notes that their faith is what got them through those tough depression years.
Gradually, debts were repaid and Cossetta was acquired two pest control firms. He immersed himself in the industry and helped to found the Kansas City Exterminating Society in 1933. As things were looking up, he found himself chasing a dream.
The Exterminators Log
“One night, endeavoring to sleep but really pondering my business problems, I was inspired with the thought that I should start a national journal for the pest control industry,” Cossetta recalled in his book.
“Since the industry had no journal and needed one, I was impelled to consider launching out on such an endeavor. I hesitated, and thought the matter over carefully to be certain that I would be successful. The more I thought about it, the more I was impressed that I should launch out. The following morning at the office, I made known my plans and immediately started to shape up a letter to be mailed to all possible prospects who were in the business.”
According to Dr. Robert Snetsinger’s seminal chronicle of the industry, The Ratcatcher’s Child, Cossetta realized his dream of an industry trade journal on Jan. 1, 1933, when the first issue of Exterminators Log appeared.
For $3 a year, companies could receive eight issues full of technical notes and personal interest stories.
There were 100 paid and about 650 unpaid subscribers that first year, and as Snetsinger marveled in his book, “Considering that this period was during the darkest days of the Great Depression, and that the appearance of the Exterminators Log preceded the organization of a national association, Al Cossetta’s venture into the field of publishing was an extreme act of faith.”
An act of faith was not much of an exaggeration. Cossetta had mortgaged his business and cars, and in his book, he admits that his debt added up to a “staggering” $10,000.
“(My wife) made herself sick just thinking of how in the world we would be able to pay this amount back. She lost faith and reprimanded me many times for incurring such a debt. I kept encouraging her that some day she would be surprised,” he recalled.
Still, he was not to be deterred from his goal. “I felt like crying and quitting, but remembering my previous experiences and with that dominating conviction in my heart, I knew that nothing could hinder my purpose,” he wrote. “Days were long. Sometimes I worked 12 to 16 hours. Long hours never mean much when your visions, dreams and air castles are beginning to pay dividends.”
By 1934, Exterminators Log hit its stride as a beacon for the pest management industry. Compared to the dieting tips and personal asides of previous issues, it began to report on the development of various associations and conventions, took a stand for state and local regulation for fumigation and offered technical information on pests.
That doesn’t mean, however, that it totally abandoned its personal touch. Cossetta knew that pest management was by and large a family industry, and updates of whose daughter just got married or who was sick and on the mend also appeared. Snetsinger likened it to a “small-town newspaper for the pest control industry.”
An Issue of Image
At the onset, according to Snetsinger, Cossetta had trouble getting articles — the professionals were loath to give up trade secrets; the entomologists looked down at a publication that was not meant to be a scientific journal.
Dr. Thomas Snyder, however, was one of the first in academia to cross over and begin writing for the magazine. While his first attempt, in the July 1933 issue, was so technical (“The Founding of New Colonies by Reticulitermes flavipes”) that it likely went over most readers’ heads, he soon found a tone that could get the message across effectively.
Other writers included Hall of Famers Professor JJ Davis, Dr. John Osmun and Dr. Lee Truman to pest management legends Charles Menard and Clifford Weiss.
It seems that a professional image was just as hot of topic then as it is today — Snetsinger reported that Cossetta strongly:
- Supported the development of associations at the national, state and local levels
- Endorsed an industry code of ethics
- Campaigned for higher prices for pest control service
- Wanted the industry to get the message out to the public what an important public health service it provides, and
- Wanted to change the industry’s name to “something more professional sounding” than exterminators and fumigators.
The journal was renamed Pests in August 1938, then Pests and Their Control in June 1939. In 1941, Cossetta sold his pest control business, and in March 1948 he sold the magazine to three individuals who later formed Trade Magazines, Inc. The headquarters were moved from Kansas City to Cleveland, and Jim Nelson was hired as editor.
Nelson later became publisher, and his name became synonymous with what today is known as Pest Control magazine until he sold it in 1967.
Cossetta later got out of the pest management business and into real estate, public speaking and other ventures (in his autobiography, he notes how at press time in 1953, he had both a popular song that was pending publication, as well as a U.S. patent pending on a self-rocking cradle he was inspired to design after babysitting his young granddaughter).
Selling and promotion remained huge influences in his life, and prompted him to write his autobiography in 1953. The focus of his book was to show how a poor young immigrant could realized his dreams in America, though hard work, faith and determination:
“My dream of publishing a trade journal became a reality. Perseverance won!”