The Development of Apiculture in the 19th Century
One could argue that the 19th century is where what we now consider to be modernity began. It was a time of monumental advancement in the sciences, the arts and society. There was the first real industrial revolution which allowed businesses to begin to truly thrive. These businesses ranged to everything from silk and wristwatches to coal and railroads. The amount of innovation and development that was occurring was unmatched. No industry went untouched, that includes apiculture. Apiculture is the breeding and maintenance of honey bee colonies by apiarists. Apiarists would keep the bees in order to harvest the wealth of resources the bee had to offer such as honey, pollen, beeswax, jelly and more. Humans have been collecting and farming bees for different purposes for thousands of years, but it was during the 19th century that the most notable development occurred.
Beekeeping has a rich history dating back to ancient times. It is believed to have originated in ancient Chinese cultures, but the date of its origin is unknown. Apiculture is discussed at length in the writings of Fan Li, the ancient chinese advisor of the state of Yue. One of his works, translated to "The Golden Rules of Business Success", Li describes the basics of bee keeping. He inscribes the proper way to store the bees, stressing the quality of the wood used to build the boxes to house the bees saying that bad wood could affect the honey negatively. The methods of storing bees varied from culture to culture during antiquity. Many cultures would hollow out logs and transform them into makeshift beehives. Others would use woven baskets or pottery to act as an artificial hive. In ancient Greece apiculture was considered to be a high status industry that brought great wealth. Both ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt used smoke as a means to control the bees and avoid being stung. However, the smoke would often damage the honey, wax and even be fatal to the bees. Beekeeping continued to be inefficient for centuries. During this time the bees resources were quite valuable and a sign of wealth and prosperity. It was clear that in order for apiculture to be effective, humans would need to grasp a deeper understanding of the honey bee.
Today, there are thousands of known species of bees that all have a unique social structure within their colonies. Some bees, such as mason bees, are solitary and do not function in colonies or groups of any kind. The honeybee however, is the opposite. Honey bees are social creatures. They have a very particular way of interacting within their colonies and with their queen. Apiarists hopes to understand these tendencies in order to master the practical management of the hive. This can be tricky due to the incredible size of some colonies, sometimes exceeding 100,000 bees. During the 18th century, natural scientists and philosophers began to undertake the complex study of bees and their inner workings-literally. Scientist Swammerdam and Reaumur used the microscope as a tool to direct and investigate the internal biology of bees. They also constructed glass environments for the bees to live to provide a controlled environment to observe the bees habits and instincts. Through these techniques scientists began to understand the social structure of bee colonies, with the queen on top and the drones on the bottom. Francois Huber made the discovery that a hive consists of only one queen, who is the mother of all the bees in the colony. Although he was blind, he had his secretary observe the hive and take notes to help further their understanding of the construction of the hive itself. This work earned him the title of "father of modern bee science"
With this new knowledge, scientists during the 19th century were able to revolutionize beekeeping with the invention of movable beehives. These hives had parallel wooden bars inside of a hive made of straw. This eventually evolved into wooden boxes with sliding frames to house the combs and preserve more honey. In this way the bees were prevented from being killed during the harvest of wax and honey, allowing them to continue producing from season to season. This helped make many bee resources more accessible to the public.
L.L. Langstroth took this research to the next level coining the term "bee space" in 1835. Bee space is the ideal measurement to have between the removable slots within the hives, 3/8 inches between the frame and the hive wall. When that space is left, bees instinctively build the comb in parallel lines, without binding the comb to other parts of the comb, or the walls of the hive. This discovery led to his creation of the ideal moveable hive, which is still used today. As scientists perfected the art of apiculture, business men became interested in the bees as a lucrative industry.
Moses Quinby was one of the first and most successful commercial beekeepers in the United States. Living in New York, Quinby built up his business rather rapidly throughout his 20's. He quickly found success,establishing over 1,000 hives in upstate New York by 1835. He published a book from his discoveries about bees and the practice of apiculture over his years of maintaining hives. His book was titled "The Mysteries of Bee-Keeping Explained" and was published in 1853. This helped others understand how to maintain success among the bees. Dr. C.C. Miller followed in Quinby's footsteps and developed practical bee keeping that specialized in the production of comb honey. Not only would Miller harvest the bees "crop", but he would also sell his bees to other beekeepers, and made a business out of selling the bees themselves. He went on to publish many books on the topic of apiculture including "A Thousand Answers to BeeKeeping Questions and Fifty Years among the Bees" Beekeeping continues to be a vital industry, world wide. The possible uses of beeswax are incredibly diverse being used in everything from cosmetic products to food preservatives.
Without the strides made within the realm of apiculture during the 19th century society today would not have an understanding of bee biology or be able to indulge in the thousands of products made by the fruits of the bee's labors.