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The World’s Greatest Inventions

by H.L. Mencken, first published in the New York American, November 26, 1934. Reprinted in A Second Mencken Chrestomathy, ed. Terry Teachout (New York: Knopf, 1995), pp. 161-63, under the title “Two Benefactors of Mankind.”

When I was a youngster, in the closing decades of the last century, two horrible plagues afflicted the American people. The first was the plague of flies and the second was that of corns. No one, in those days, knew how to get rid of either. We used to sleep under canopies of netting on Summer nights, but they were worse than useless, for on the one hand they kept out the air, and on the other they were no impediment to flies, which wriggled through their meshes and feasted on our carcasses within. By day these same flies gave their show on our dinner-tables, leaving us with cholera morbus or typhoid fever. On Sunday mornings they performed massively on clergy and laity; on weekends they specialized in pedagogues and pupils. Save in the extreme North their season ran from Easter to Thanksgiving. While they raged, every American spent half his time dodging them, banging away at them, and damning them. Read the rest of this entry