History of Beekeeping



The Egyptians were using smoke on beehives by utilizing earthenware pipes and were removing honeycomb that way.


Aristotle’s “Historia Animalum” discussed the following on bees:
· floral fidelity
· winter feeding
· foulbrood disease (mentioned)

He also mentions how bees assume different tasks at differing stages of their adult life.


Clean water supply, ensuring hives were kept out of the wind and free from livestock were discussed by Virgil (Roman).


By this time frame Varro (Roman) was discussing the profit opportunities of beekeeping.

· Leased hives for pollination
· Sale of propolis for medicinal use


beehive smoker

A smoker and hive tool very similar to the one used today was mentioned by Comella (Roman).


Fragile pottery hives were finally replaced by straw skeps by Anglo Saxons.


The history of beekeeping changed when the first octagonal hive and supers from wood were built by Rev. William Mew of Gloucestshire, England.


wooden beehive

The first patent was issued for a wooden hive that contained removable inside frames. This was issued to John Gedde, a Scot.


The first actual scientific studies of honeybees was performed by F. Huber of Geneva in Switzerland. (As Huber was blind he had F. Furnens (his servant) do the actual observations).

He also invented a ‘leaf’ hive system so that vertical combs could be examined individually. In the history of beekeeping he is also credited with discovering the following:
*Queen bees transform from worker bees
*The queen (not king) ruled the hive
*Workers actually laid eggs that hatch
*Queens were capable of fighting
*Queens actually mated while in flight
*Observed and studied the causes of bee swarming
*The use of the antennae
*Production of wax scales


The history of beekeeping shows the commercial growth of beekeeping is attributed to Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth by his development of the 10 frame ‘deep’ hive that has the moveable frames. This system is still in use today. He realized they leave open a space of 5/16” and build burr comb in spaces over 3/8” and propolizing spaces ¼” or less.


Straight combs were assured when Johannes Mehring, a carpenter from Germany designed wax foundation with octagonal indentations (5 per inch) for use in Langstroth’s frames.


The first wire queen excluder was built by Abbe Collin.


The first centrifugal honey extractor designed for the 10” x 10” Austrian frames was developed by Major Franz van Hruschka of Austria.


Langstroth’s frames were enhanced when A.J. Root designed a centrifugal honey extractor by putting gears from an apple parer on top. In the history of beekeeping it was the first ever all metal extractor.


The first bellow type smoker was developed by Moses Quinby in New York State, US.


The first leaf spring bee escape was developed by E.C. Porter of Illinois, US. This is still being used today exactly as Porter designed.


A continuous sheet of wax foundation with uniform thickness became available after E.B. Weed if New York State, US developed imprinting rollers. (Prior to that a wooden board had to be dipped into molten wax, that wax then cooled which allowed the sheet to be pulled away from the board.)


Karl van Frisch of Germany studied honeybees for 59 years culminating in receiving the Noble Prize for science in 1973.

* was the first to publish scientific articles on beekeeping
* analyzed bee behavior
*studied bee language as expressed in the ‘bee dance’


Hetherington’s wire reinforcing of the foundation is improved by Root and Dadant as Weed’s thinner foundation often failed in their extractors. The principal sources for wax foundation in the US at the time was Root and Dadant.