If you perform crack and crevice treatments, you have Blanton Whitmire to thank for the concept. It may be an oversimplification to say there were no targeted pest treatments before he came on the scene, but his coinage of phrase (and method) almost single-handedly changed the face of professional pest control.
Whitmire was born on a farm outside Asheville, N.C., in 1918. He credits his rural roots to a love of nature that continues today. His brother Homer, 20 years Blanton’s senior, left the homestead early on for a bright future with Ralston-Purina in St. Louis.
“It was the Depression, and soon after he arrived they closed his (sanitation) department,” Blanton recalls of Homer, who passed away in 1990. “But he started puttering around with chemicals in his garage — with rotenone and pyrethrum.”
After high school, Blanton Whitmire attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, but soon decided it wasn’t for him. He enlisted in the Army in 1943, emerging three years later as a corporal. He was initially stationed overseas but later trained recruits in Aberdeen, Md.
“I was stationed in the Lucian Islands out in the South Pacific, and out of about 100 guys there I’d say I was one of three who did not come down with malaria or dengue fever during my stint,” Whitmire says. “I was about the only one doing the sensible stuff like washing my hands.”
Dengue fever caught up with him years later, though: While enjoying a vacation in the Caribbean, sleeping in a cabin without window screens, Whitmire was bitten by a mosquito and subsequently caught the disease.
“You can bet I only sleep in rooms with screens now,” he jokes.
Learning the Ropes
Whitmire’s first foray into the pest industry was in 1937 — after high school and before enlistment — when he followed Homer out to St. Louis to help get a new pesticide manufacturing company off the ground.
He spent his first year working on Whitmire Laboratories’ production line, in the lab and in the insectary running fly control tests for a mere 40 cents an hour.
After the service, he returned to Whitmire Labs, still working his way up the ladder. Homer and his son, Bill Whitmire, were steering the company to success. Blanton Whitmire helped it along and gave it a quantum leap in 1962 when he initiated the term “crack and crevice.”
“I was at a Purdue conference and we were talking about aerosol products,” he remembers. “Most companies were trying to figure out how to sell more chemical, not less, but I thought what is the point of all that wasted product? We should only be getting at the pest — in the cracks and crevices.
“Back in the 1940s, a house would receive about 25 gallons of chlordane,” he continues. “Today, a chemical treatment has about one gram of toxicity. We used to kill fast. Now we kill slow and let the pest do the work.”
Eventually, to help get the word out, Blanton Whitmire decided to institute formal training to technicians nationwide. The Whitmire Institute of Technology was born.
“Technician training was very poor in the 1960s,” he says. “It was ‘bring a chemical to the house, start at the left of the door and work your way around the house.’ I was trying to get home the point that we should study where the pests actually are and only apply there. So by the 1970s, our training department was so strong that we put Bill Broome in charge of education.”
Today, the Whitmire seminars are known throughout the industry as the gold standard other training meetings try to match. While the format and content have changed over the years, the goal is the same: Increase the professionalism and knowledge of every pest management professional.
In 1987, Blanton Whitmire ignored outside buyout offers and instead sold the company to his employees through an ESOP plan (for more on this type of plan, of Pest Control’s September issue).
In 1995, Whitmire Research merged with Micro-Gen Equipment Corp. to form Whitmire Micro-Gen Research Laboratories, and earlier this year the company was acquired by the Sorex Group.
The Generous Spirit
Blanton Whitmire’s technical and training contributions to the industry are immense, but nearly eclipsed by his generosity. The pinnacle of his industry philanthropy is the North Carolina State University endowed chairs for urban entomology research, a $4 million donation established in 1990.
Blanton Whitmire and his wife Peggy named one chair in the family name. The other chair they named to honor their good friend and NCSU professor emeritus, Dr. Charles Wright.
“Charlie helped our company out immensely when we were perfecting our aerosols, so we thought it was quite fitting,” Blanton Whitmire explains.
Today, Dr. Coby Schal is the Blanton J. Whitmire Endowed Chair and Dr. Jules Silverman is the Dr. Charles G. Wright Endowed Chair. In addition, the Whitmires donated money to build dedicated urban entomology research laboratories on campus for both endowed chairs and their staffs.
“We established the fund to carry out and develop the idea that there are chemicals out there that can be made less toxic and pollutive,” Whitmire says. “For example, Dr. Schal is researching cockroach pheromones with six graduate students. The possibilities of what they might find are exciting. I’m interested in that type of pest control.”
The Whitmires’ academic generosity extends beyond NCSU: At Western North Carolina University in Cullowhee, there is an endowment for the Blanton J. Whitmire Distinguished Professorship in Environmental Science. At Egerton University in Njoro, Kenya, there is yet another endowment administered through NCSU.
The Kenyan connection was as a longtime supplier of pyrethrum for Whitmire, and he wanted to give something back to the country by improving farmers’ food preservation techniques and quality of life.
A Family Man
This month, Blanton and Peggy Whitmire will celebrate their 61st anniversary. Their wedding tale was not too unusual, given the wartime backdrop.
“We were set to get married in St. Louis but I wasn’t allowed to leave the state of New York during my service leave,” Whitmire says. “So she came out to New York City and we were married at the famous Riverside Chapel there.”
Whitmire does not regret that his children and grandchildren do not have interest in taking over the business he helped to build, so long as they continue to respect it.
Today, Blanton and Peggy Whitmire are active in Gateway Greening, a local nonprofit urban renewal program that helps children grow their own fruits and vegetables in individual gardens. Blanton Whitmire jokes that he “came full circle” from his farming roots.
The pair also created and support the Whitmire Wildflower Garden, five acres of native Missouri plants open to the public. Blanton Whitmire established the garden about 15 years ago when he wanted to surprise his wife with a birthday gift of flowers, which he did — in a big way.
Whitmire also still takes pride in his industry achievements, which continue to be implemented today.
“I’d say my favorite professional accomplishment is helping make the transition to knowledge over chemical in pest control,” he concludes.