This paper reports part of a historical study of insecticide development. We analysed accumulated references to specific insecticide groups in text books, and index references to a large number of specific insecticides in theReview of Applied Entomology (Ser. A) over the period 1916–70. The paper describes our techniques for analysing the resulting research publication growth curves for these compounds. Our data did not fit the classical S-curves, and possible explanations for this are discussed. Bibliometric time series data may exhibit various inconsistencies, and we describe an approach to handling such dirty data. We concluded that; our quantitative approach produces a picture of the development of insecticides that fits the accepted view derived by qualitative historiography, is very sensitive to trends in pesticide research, and might be a useful adjunct to technology forecasting as well as to historical studies.