The History of Beekeeping in the USA

hive care

According to data available, honey bee colonies were shipped to the Virginia Colony from England in 1622. Between 1630 and 1633, a few more shipments were made to Massachusetts.

Since there is no record to indicate that these honey bees were imported, it is safe to assume that colonialists of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Carolina and New York brought these honey bee colonies.

Also, according to available records, honey bees were already present in the places mentioned below on the respective dates: Pennsylvania 1698; New York (Long Island) 1670; Connecticut 1644; north Carolina 1730; Ohio 1788; Illinois 1820; Mississippi (Natchez) 1770; Alabama (Mobile) 1773; Georgia 1743 and Kentucky 1780.
Importation of Italian bee

By 1850’s, leading American bee keepers got wind of a superior race of honeybees from Italy.

Although details of the first attempts are confusing, the first known fruitful importation of queen bees from Italy was in 1860.

Later, in 19th century, several other races of queen bees were imported into America. They mainly came from Syria, Hungary, Egypt, Tunisia, Cyprus and the Holy Land.

However, none of these imported varieties was of permanent use.

Also, Caucasian and Carnolian queen bees were imported. They are still used, albeit to a limited extent, to date.

Trade catalogs and bee journals from around 1870 all the way to World War I and past it include ads for imported varieties of queen bees as well as their progeny.

To this date, there is widespread use of Italian race of queen bees in the whole of America.

Queen Bee Rearing

raising queen bees

A market was soon created for young bees as the amount of colonies run by individual beekeepers became more.

In 1861, E.L Pratt, William Carey and Henry Alley, all natives to Massachusetts, started rearing queen bees for the purpose of selling.

They used narrow comb strips that contained eggs as well as larvae and which they fastened to partial or top bars.

Upon adding these materials to queenless swarm boxes, queen cells formed.

These queen cells were then individually distributed to queenless colonies for the purposes of mating.

Commercial Bee Keeping

It is safe to assume that, from 1600’s all the way to 1800’s, honey was an item of local trade.

Most farmers as well as other villagers maintained a few bee colonies in box hives. This was to meet their needs, those of their friends as well as the needs of their neighbors.

The first person to rear bees for commercial purposes was New York State’s Moses Quinby. He reared bees as his only means of survival. He produced and sold honey. He is known to be the first person to design box hives which allowed harvesting of honey without killing the colonies.

After testing a couple of movable combs, Quinby switched to movable comb-type, abandoning box hives.

He then advised other people to also do the same.

After realizing the potential of movable comb-type, many of Quinby’s neighbors also resorted to this method and started to harvest honey on commercial scale.

As people began to use comb foundation, movable comb hives as well as improved honey extractors, commercial rearing of bees soon spread to other states.

However, the farmer’s chances to expand their operations and operate profitably were hampered by poor roads.

Rise in Manufacturing of Extracted Honey

After the First World War, there was a sharp decline of the amount of honey.

This was because it was difficult to ship this fragile product, it also had a short shelf life and chances of its combs leaking or granulating were quite high.

However, buyers got more confidence regarding extracted honey’s purity from Pure Food Law of 1906.

This consequently increased the demand for the product.

Another factor that led to increased production of extracted honey was the sugar-short era of First World War, as it increased the demand for the product.

The Honey-Packing Plants

As commercial producers of the product expanded their operations, it became difficult for them to pack as well as sell honey on retail market.

Thus, by 1920’s, specialized plants for packing honey were developed.

Today, these packing plants are more sophisticated as they can pack liquid or more smoothly crystallized honey.

The growth of the bee keeping sector has since become so remarkable, and it would be laughable for a latter day bee keeper to see the box hives that first bee keepers used.

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