Saturday, January 23, 2010

Celebrating Rev. L. L. Langstroth 1810 to 1895

If you've hovered around the topic of beekeeping it won't be long until you hear this man's name: The Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth.

He was born two hundred years ago in Pennsylvania, P.A., USA. He is recognized for designing and creating the hive boxes that we use today all over the world. That's why the deep and medium hive boxes are referred to as Langstroth hives.

He took up beekeeping mostly to distract himself from the dog days of depression that he suffered from time to time.

Mr. Langstroth is often also credited with the discovery of the bee space, that precise 1 cm measurement (3/8 of an inch) that bees like to have around the edges of their combs and the top of the hive.
Actually, the bee space had already been previously reported on in Europe at the time and bee boxes were already being invented but what Langstroth did was come up with the concept of the top opening hive and that was totally new.

Keeping bees in boxes or containers was not new. At that time bees were kept in skeps, bee gum trees and various types of boxes.
No matter the design, if the bees had any gaps in their hive that were greater than the precise bee space, they would glue everything together by filling those spaces with comb.
It made beekeeping practises often unpleasant as the bees' home was torn apart when collecting honey or if inspecting the hive, resulting in angry bees and lots of stings for the beekeeper. It was more common than not that hives were never inspected.

The top opening hive that honoured the bee space may not seem such a big deal, but it was. With the top cover leaving the bee space above the frames, the cover was no longer glued down by the bees and could be easily lifted off. Langstroth also used removable frames.
This resulted in bees remaining very calm when the hive was opened. That in turn led to further observation of the life and the habits of bees. As well, it allowed for full inspections of the health of the hive and our knowledge of the honey bee grew exponentially. The secret life of bees was no longer so secret.

In time the new hive design was accepted and bee skeps were used less and less. Eventually it became law that all hives must have removable frames in order to conduct inspections. The Langstroth hive became the standard bee hive that is used all over the world and Rev. Langstroth became known as the Father of American Beekeeping.

He also shared his knowledge, publishing a book called The Hive and the Honey Bee. The photos on this page were taken from the book which was first published in 1878, and is still in print today.

His epitaph reads as follows:

Inscribed to the memory of Rev. L. L. Langstroth, "Father of American Beekeeping", by his affectionate beneficiaries who, in the remembrance of the services rendered by his persistent and painstaking observations and experiments with the honey bee, his improvements in the hive, and the literary ability shown in the first scientific and popular book on the subject of beekeeping in the United States, gratefully erect this monument.
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