When the image of a pest control operator (PCO) comes to one’s mind, it’s almost impossible not to think of the compressed air sprayer, or as it’s affectionately known—the B&G. Bill Brehm is one man responsible for that vision.
Of course, just about everyone knows he’s the co-inventor of this piece of equipment that revolutionized the pest control industry. However, Brehm, who is a 1998 Pest Control Hall of Fame inductee, made many more contributions to help further this industry.
Brehm, who died August 20, 1995, helped to establish professional ethics among distributors to the pest control industry, and he encouraged the continued betterment of the industry through scholarships and education.
“He set very high standards with respect to the conduct of suppliers. Anything that he and his company produced, they backed it up with good research and data, and they worked well with distributors,” states Dr. John Osmun, former head of the department of entomology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.
Brehm’s company, B&G Equipment Co., which is now headquartered in Plumsteadville, Pa., began in the back of a garage in Philadelphia, Pa., where Brehm and George Gilmore (the “G” in B&G and co-inventor of the sprayer) were making the compressed air sprayer and then selling them to whomever was buying.
The sprayer was developed as part of a class project for both Brehm and Gilmore, who were members of the very first class of structural pest control at Purdue. In 1957, Gilmore sold his half of the business and Brehm became the sole owner. Gilmore went to Hudson Falls, N.Y., and became a teacher.
The demand for the sprayer continued to increase, and the business grew rapidly, from small-time garage production to eventually moving into an 80,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. Today, the company employs more than 70 people and is owned by Brehm’s son George, vice president of sales and marketing, and Cecil Patterson, president and chief executive officer.
Back to the Beginning
B&G Equipment Co. is not the beginning of Brehm’s experience in the pest control business. His father, George Brehm, owned a pest control company called Hygienic Sanitation in Philadelphia. According to his wife, Joanne Brehm, Bill began working there in the summers and started riding on the route when he was 16 years old.
He attended Purdue University beginning in 1946. Dr. J.J. Davis was the head of the Purdue Entomology Department when Brehm attended school, and he even roomed at Davis’ home during his freshman year. He graduated with honors in the spring of 1950. While attending Purdue, he helped found the industry’s professional fraternity, Pi Chi Omega, and served as the organization’s first president.
Right after college, he continued working for his father’s company as a technician, but his main forte was business. While at Hygienic, Brehm was in the process of starting his own company, B&G Equipment Co.
According to his son, George, Brehm enjoyed working as a technician, and was even a board certified entomologist, but found that he really preferred the work of equipment development. In 1962, he began to work exclusively at B&G.
In addition to the compressed air sprayer, Brehm also helped revolutionize the sub-slab injector (SSI). The SSI was developed in 1953 by Brehm’s mentor and friend Dr. Osmun, who was an assistant professor of entomology at the time, in conjunction with Dave Phendler, a Purdue associate dean.
“I took a class out to Dave Phendler’s house and we tried to inject chlordane under his slab and it wouldn’t go.
“We were trying to stick a rod down a hole and hope that the material would go in. If it didn’t go in, there wasn’t much that we could do about it,” Osmun admonishes.
They fiddled around with the job trying to come up with a solution, and ended up with the sub-slab injector. They submitted a patent for the SSI, but were not successful because something else already existed with a similar principle. They soon turned it over to Brehm.
“He produced a very nice edition of it,” recounts Osmun. “He added a shut-off valve on top and other small refinements, and then sold it to pest control operators.”
In addition to his equipment inventions, Brehm is also credited with founding the United Producers, Formulators and Distributors Association (UPF&DA). In fact, while there were others involved in the start-up of UPF&DA, Joanne says that Bill was the “brains” behind the operation.
Osmun points out that Brehm also worked to instill professionalism in the industry by encouraging education among young people. He pushed industry contribution to education through scholarships and worked to stimulate pest controller support.
“He proposed that Pi Chi Omega take some of its funds and start supporting funding for students to go to school, and that’s exactly what happened,” Osmun asserts. “Consequently, even today, there are four or five students who are supported.”
Joanne realized Brehm’s goals to support the industry, and initiated the William L. Brehm Scholarship at Purdue immediately after his death.
“He liked to help students and he was a very generous man,” Joanne reiterates. ” He never forgot his school. He was very loyal to Purdue.”
While his company was based in Plumsteadville, Pa., Brehm operated it from his home in Atlanta, Ga. Joanne credits the success of this arrangement to reliable and loyal employees.
In addition to serving as president of B&G Equipment Co., in Atlanta and Plumsteadville, he was also president of B&G of Georgia (1972-1993); and of B&G Glenview, Ill. (1972-1981), two companies that made products related to the pest control industry.