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  • Volume 57 Ohio Hystory.


A revolution in beekeeping began on a summer day in 1838 when Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth saw a large glass globe filled with honey on the parlor table of a friend. He was so fascinated by the beautiful sight that he went with his friend to visit his bees in an attic chamber. In a moment, all the intense curiosity of his childhood and boyhood seemed to "burst into full flame." When he went home that evening he took with him two stocks of bees in ordinary box hives. With that small purchase he began his apiarian career.

As a little boy, Lorenzo had worn out his trousers by too much kneeling and crawling on graveled walks to observe the curious habits of ants that he attracted by digging holes in the gravel and depositing therein bits of meat, bread crumbs, and dead flies. He had no books on natural history to read, so he studied that subject at first hand. An unsympathetic teacher punished him at school for putting flies in paper cages. His parents had little patience with his strange habits, but nothing stopped his observations of the insect life about him.1

Lorenzo's parents, John George Langstroth and Rebecca Amelia Dunn Langstroth, lived at 106 South Front Street, not far from Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lorenzo was the second child and the eldest son in a family of eight children. His maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Lorraine Dunn, was a granddaughter of Count Louis Lorraine, a Huguenot, who had fled to America after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.2

In spite of his peculiar devotion to the study of insects, Lorenzo made a good record in school. In preparatory school he became a notable Latin scholar. He could translate Latin so readily that one



would think he was reading from an English book.3 He entered Yale College as a freshman in the fall of 1827, before his seventeenth birthday, which fell on December 25. At Yale his fine scholarship and excellent character won for him election to Phi Beta Kappa.

There was practically nothing in his course at Yale that pertained to his lifework, but at that time he had no thought of becoming a professional apiarist.

Langstroth was not particularly interested in religion until his senior year. In that year, under the influence of a fellow student, he decided to study for the ministry. In the fall of 1831, he entered the Yale divinity school. To provide funds for his education, he taught in one or another female school in New Haven. For two years (1834-36), he was tutor in mathematics to the freshman class at Yale.

Early in 1836, while still a tutor at Yale, Langstroth was called to the pastorate of the South Church in Andover, Massachusetts.

The parish was large, and the young minister found his duties too strenuous. At the end of two years, he resigned on account of a strange nervous condition that from time to time made him unable to perform his pastoral duties. It was while he was in Andover that he began to keep bees and to study their habits.4

In the meantime, Langstroth had married Anne Tucker, of New Haven, who was teaching with her mother in a girls' school in New Haven. After resigning his pastorate, he became principal of Abbot Academy at Andover. At the end of six months, his health failed again. In the spring of 1840, he became principal of a girls' school at Greenfield, Massachusetts, and removed his family to that town.

In addition to his teaching, he supplied the pulpit of the Second Congregational Church for two years. From 1843 to 1848 he served as pastor of the church. A fine portrait of Langstroth hangs in the office of that church today.5

About the first thing Langstroth bought in Greenfield was a stock of bees in a section of a hollow log. While in Greenfield, he gradually increased the number of his colonies.


In 1848, ill health again forced Langstroth to resign his pastorate. Again he turned to teaching. He removed to Philadelphia where he became principal of a school for young ladies. Here he remained until 1852.6

Langstroth continued his careful study of bees in Philadelphia.

When he had made his start in Andover, he had only his schoolboy's Virgil and a small book written by a man who doubted the existence of a queen bee. While in Greenfield, he acquired the Letters of Francois Huber, the blind apiarist of Switzerland, and Bevan's Treatise of the Honeybee (London, 1838). He bought a Huber hive, which was a "leaf" hive that stood on end and could be opened like a book, each "leaf" exposing the surface of a comb. Langstroth made a number of these leaf hives and some of the Bevan hives, in which the combs were suspended from movable bars. After much futile experimentation, Langstroth used the Huber hive only as an observation hive.

The more Langstroth read, the more questions he found un answered. Beekeeping seemed to have changed little since the time of the ancient Greeks. What was needed was a hive that would permit inspection without disturbing the bees, and which would permit the removal of the combs without waste of honey and without injury to the bees. Bar hives allowed the bees to suspend a comb from each bar, and the use of "wings" kept the combs separated. Bars and wings, however, were not new, dating back to colonial times, and even to ancient times. Huber had outlined the biology of bees, and Jan Dzierzon of Silesia, a German-speaking Pole, had formulated the theory of parthenogenesis.7

Langstroth was trying to improve the Bevan bar hive. While it had the advantage of each bar holding a separate comb, these combs could not be removed readily, being glued by the bees to the walls of the hive. Concentration upon this grave defect led to the discovery that made Langstroth famous.

In 1848, in Philadelphia, at Chestnut and Schuylkill streets, Langstroth had a house with a second-story veranda and several



spare attic rooms. There he established his apiary; but a year later he removed it to West Philadelphia, two miles away. In the summer of 1851, he discovered that bees could be made to work in a glass hive, exposed to the full light of day. This glass hive led to an acquaintance with the Reverend Mr. Berg of Philadelphia, who told Langstroth about a Prussian clergyman named Dzierzon, who was attracting the attention of the rulers of Europe by his discoveries in the management of bees. Berg was astonished at the wonderful sim ilarity between Langstroth's and Dzierzon's methods of management, neither of the men having any knowledge of the labors of the other.8

In the same year, he received first prize from the Philadelphia Horticultural Society for his specimens of comb honey in glass. To obtain perfect combs for market, beekeepers placed glass tumblers upside down in upper boxes ("supers") directly over holes cut to permit the bees from the hive to store surplus honey in those receptacles. Such a device provided a "fancy" article for the market.

Seeking to improve the Bevan hive, Langstroth discovered a means of removing the cover of the hive with ease. No matter how snugly the cover might fit, the bees always found crevices to fill with propolis ("bee glue"), thus gluing the cover down tightly. By simply lowering the bars, to which the combs were attached by about three-eighths of an inch from the top, Langstroth made the important discovery that the bees left open that space at the top of the hive, using it as a passageway. A smaller space the bees would fill with propolis; a larger space they would fill with comb.9

On the afternoon of October 30, 1851, Langstroth was returning home from his apiary in West Philadelphia, pondering the problem of how to eliminate the necessity of cutting the combs loose from the walls of the hives. Jan Dzierzon had invented a hive with

combs on movable bars, which he could manipulate successfully, but beekeepers less skillful could not use it, because the combs had to be cut loose from the sides of the hive before they could be removed. The Dzierzon hive as well as all other movable-frame hives up to this time had been abandoned by disgusted beekeepers. It was this problem that Langstroth had long been trying to solve.


Suddenly, the obvious solution came to him. There, in his mind, was the Langstroth movable-frame beehive! The movable frames suspended with a bee space between them, a bee space between the frames and the hive walls, a bee space between frames and bottom board as well as the cover on top-that was the vision that revolutionized beekeeping. There on the street, Langstroth could hardly refrain from shouting "Eureka," so happy was he as he visualized the new hive. That very night he entered a complete description with sketches of the improved hive in his journal.

The advantages of the new hive were manifold. The honey could be removed with the comb intact; the combs could be removed for inspection or cleaning without disturbing the bees; and artificial swarms could be made with ease, now that the queen could be removed without injuring or irritating the bees. Beekeepers could now produce enough honey to make bees profitable.

About a month later, on November 25, Langstroth wrote down the great advantages of his new hive:

(1) The scientific beekeeper could examine every comb quickly and easily. The Huber hive was expensive and the removal of the combs was tedious and difficult. The Langstroth hive would be cheap, and the combs could be removed with safety to the bees;

(2) The practical beekeeper, who wished an income from his bees, could propagate queens, make artificial swarms, supply destitute hives with honey or brood, and produce honey ready for the market in boxes or in glass tumblers, and he could protect his hives against the bee moth. In short, he could do almost anything he wanted to do with his bees;

(3) The farmer could easily procure honey for his own use. Entries in Langstroth's journal show definitely that he had fully developed the idea of the movable-frame hive before the year 1851 ended.

Early in the spring of 1852, he increased the number of his colonies and removed all of his bees to his West Philadelphia apiary.

He had a skillful cabinetmaker, Henry Bourquin, who loved bees, to make the new hives. The old bar hives were converted into movable-frame hives by simply nailing uprights and bottom strips in



place to provide a bee space all around the frames containing the combs. As Langstroth manipulated the frames-removing the combs, shaking the bees from them, and changing the position of the frames-Henry Bourquin fairly shouted to "Friend Lorenzo" that he (Langstroth) had not made an invention but "a perfect revolu tion in beekeeping."10

Langstroth set forth his claims in the press in 1852, summarizing them by saying:

I claim, first, the use of a shallow chamber, substantially as described, in combination with a perforated cover, for enlarging or diminishing at will the size and number of the spare honey receptacles.

Second, the use of the movable frames, or their equivalents, substantially as described; also their use in combination with the shallow chamber, with or without my arrangement for spare honey receptacles.

Third, a divider, substantially as described; in combination with a movable cover, allowing the divider to be inserted from above between the ranges of comb.

Fourth, the use of the double glass sides in a single frame, substantially as set forth.

Fifth, the construction of the trap, for excluding moths and catching worms, so arranged as to increase or diminish at will the size of the entrance for bees, substantially in the manner set forth.11

During the summer of 1852, Langstroth had more than a hundred movable-frame hives made, some of which he sold with the patent right whenever the patent should be issued. Most of the hives, however, were used in Langstroth's own apiary.

Late in the summer, the old nervous disorder returned. Under this affliction he was forced to sell his bees. By November, how ever, he was well again and had secured his patent.

On account of the uncertainty of his health, he returned to Greenfield, Massachusetts. There he secured the capital to introduce his new hive, by giving Doctor Joseph Beals, a Greenfield dentist and a former parishioner of Langstroth's, a half-interest in


his patent. In Greenfield, he began to write his famous manual for apiarists, Langstroth on the Honey-bee, which was the first of his contributions to the literature of beekeeping. Langstroth's book eventually led to the beginning of apicultural journalism in America.

Jan Dzierzon of Silesia had published his work on the theory and practice of beekeeping in 1848. Samuel Wagner of York, Pennsylvania, an intelligent student of bee culture, had translated it into English and was about to publish it when he became acquainted with Langstroth. When Wagner saw Langstroth's new hives, he gave up the publication of the Dzierzon translation and urged Langstroth to write a book on beekeeping, for he was convinced that Langstroth could do more for beekeeping in America than any foreign writer could.

It was a bold venture for a poverty-stricken man with uncertain health to embark upon such an uncharted sea. But he went to Greenfield in November 1852 to live with one of his sisters, Mrs.

Almon Brainerd. His wife and two daughters remained in Philadelphia, where Mrs. Langstroth taught in a girls' school. For six years, Langstroth lived with his sister and her husband. During most of that time he supplied the pulpit of the Congregational church at Colrain, near Greenfield. In summer vacations, Langstroth was joined by his wife and two daughters at Colrain. Their son James lived with a family on a nearby farm. As soon as Langstroth was settled in Greenfield, he began to write, sending the sheets, a few at a time, to his wife in Philadelphia to be transcribed into legible copy for the printer. Within a few months the book was completed. His brother-in-law advanced the money for a small edition, which was published in May 1853 by Hopkins, Bridgman & Company of Northampton, Massachusetts. The book was printed in Greenfield.12

Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-bee, a Bee Keeper's Manual was the first American work on the physiology and habits of the honeybee and the principles of its culture. Never before had this information been available in the English language. It was delightful to read, and it was practical and explicit in its instructions.

Most of its advice is as good today as it was in 1853. A revised


edition was brought out in 1857. In 1859, the J. B. Lippincott Company of Philadelphia published a third edition. New printings were made from time to time without further revision. Langstroth's health would not permit frequent revision. Finally, in the 1880's, he undertook, with Charles and Camille Dadant13 to prepare a new edition. Langstroth's health was so poor, however, that the Dadants finally took complete responsibility for the revision and publication.

This edition came out in 1889, and the Dadants sponsored several subsequent editions. The book has been translated into the French, Russian, Spanish, Italian, and Polish languages.l4 It made great beekeepers like Moses Quinby and Amos Ives Root.

In 1854, Langstroth began to write for the American Agriculturist. He later contributed to the Country Gentleman, Wagner's American Bee Journal, and to Amos Ives Root's Gleanings in Bee Culture. In 1874, arrangements were made for Langstroth's articles to run in the Journal and the Gleanings at the same time. Langstroth wrote in a lively style that made scientific facts as fascinating as fiction. He knew and loved his bees so well that he wrote of them as if they had the impulses and reactions of men. His essay on the "poor slandered Drone," for instance, allows the drone to present a highly humorous but logical defense against the accusation of general laziness and lack of character. There is a chuckle in every line. He enriched his writings with his wide acquaintance with the classics, with his keen insight into the human heart, and with an unusually fertile imagination. His scientific writings bore the imprint of a scholar, a Christian minister, and a gentleman in the finest sense of the word.

In 1858, Langstroth removed with his family to Oxford, Ohio. He brought with him his widowed mother, Rebecca Dunn Langstroth. Oxford was the seat of the Miami University, the Western Female Seminary, the Oxford Female Institute, and the Oxford Female College. It was called the classic village, and its society must have been peculiarly congenial to Langstroth. Soon after he arrived, the


Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Edward W. Root, resigned his pastorate and wished to sell his new house. One of Langstroth's brothers-in-law, Aurelius B. Hull, bought the comfortable eightroom brick house with ten acres of land and gave it to Langstroth.

The house is now owned by the Western College for Women (the Western Female Seminary) and is called Langstroth Cottage. Here Lorenzo L. Langstroth established an apiary in partnership with his young son James. He employed local cabinetmakers, Samuel Gath and his son Harry, to make his hives.

Around his house, he planted apple trees, for apple blossoms are especially fine for honey. Along the turnpike that ran past his house, Langstroth planted linden trees for his bees. A few of those trees stand along that highway today, and when the lindens bloom, their fragrance brings to mind the gentle beekeeper who once walked in their shade. Langstroth devoted an acre of ground to a formal garden planted with flowers that the bees loved best, the box-bordered beds primly divided by narrow walks. North of the house was a clover field, and nearby a field of buckwheat for the delectation of his bees.

Nevertheless, with all this lavish bloom, the bees roamed far from home in search of pollen and nectar. From the wild flowers and trees of the campus and outlying fields, the bees came winging home with heavily laden honey sacs and pollen baskets.

In those Calvinistic days, children feared their elders, and a minister was usually a man of awesome rectitude. But not one child was afraid of dear "Father Langstroth." Little folk capered with glee wat his approach. If Father Langstroth chanced to lead in family prayer, they dared to peep through their fingers and speculate upon what the capacious pockets of his linen duster might contain-a bright bird feather, a bit of bark, a shining pebble, or a lustrous shell. They hovered around the "bee man" as he worked in a shed always sweet with wood shavings, near his house. Wide-eyed, they watched his eager face as he bent over a frame or pinched into one of its angles a bit of wax. They wandered through the honey garden with him and listened to his wondrous stories of insects and flowers.

Early in the morning, they could see him moving among his neat, white hives, beginning a long day devoted to the care and study


of his bees. A child who loved him remembered him in later years as a huge, portly, stooped figure in black bee bonnet hung about with a long calico curtain softly, slowly, slouching through the garden between the blos soms and around his hives, the sun shining goldenly, the bees airily dancing above his head as, the world forgot, wholeheartedly he peered into their wise ways, studying, planning.

He told the children that white clover honey tastes clearly of the blossom and is the finest of all.

Then comes red clover [he said]; then apple blossom honey from my own orchard; locust honey from the trees of the campus; then linden, in point of flavor; last of all buckwheat, not so dainty and not pure gold in the comb.15

A little boy who lived next door never forgot Father Langstroth, though he lived to be a very old man. One day he with his parents was a guest at the Langstroth home. The unusual courtesy that Langstroth showed the small boy in a day when children were kept in the background was an unforgettable experience. Langstroth's young nephew and the little visitor, George Peck, were clothed in bee hats and gloves after dinner and taken out into the yard crowded with beehives. For hours Father Langstroth entertained those two children with the marvels of bee life. All through George Peck's long life, the memory of Langstroth's kindly smile and genial presence was an inspiration.16

The recollections of the Reverend H. B. Brown, brother of Oxford's famous farmers, Waldo and Benjamin Brown, which appeared in the Oxford News, September 3, 1897, give an interesting sidelight on Langstroth:

One September day, along somewhere in the '50's, I was called from my work to show a stranger about the farm. I was told by my brother that he was a preacher from Philadelphia who had recently moved into the village near which our farm was situated.

I found a pleasant-looking middle-aged gentleman who said he would be glad to walk over the farm and see the crops. He listened attentively, and I fancied I was impressing him....

As we passed a field of broom corn he noticed that some of the heads were infested by a small wood louse and he told me some interesting facts


about their habits. Coming to a patch of watermelons, he called my attention to the fact that some of the hills appeared to be affected by a blight, and asked me the cause of it. I confessed ignorance, when he remarked that possibly it was the work of an aphis or wood louse akin to those upon the broom corn, and plucking off a leaf, he examined it by means of a small microscope, which he carried in his pocket; then handing me the glass and the leaf, he pointed out some things in which the two species differed....

Passing on, we came to a patch of Hubbard squashes, and he asked: "Do you keep your seed pure?" I replied, "No! we send to Gregory at Marblehead every spring for new seed." "There is no need of that," said he. "You have, no doubt, observed that the pistillate flowers, from which the squashes are formed, remain in blossom for only a day, while the staminate flowers continue for several days. As the bees are the principal agents in mixing different species, by carrying pollen of one flower to another, if you would keep your squashes pure, get up before it is fairly light (for the bees are early risers), take a staminate blossom, shake the pollen into a pistillate blossom, then tie it up with a piece of thread, put down a stake to mark it, and there you will have a squash true to its kind."

In walking through the orchard, I found my companion knew all about the different varieties of fruit, understood budding and grafting, was posted in the best methods of fighting the curculio and other insect pests.

In the spring of 1859, Lorenzo Langstroth and Samuel Wagner, with Richard Colvin of Baltimore, made arrangements to im port Italian bees from Jan Dzierzon of Silesia. Wagner had ordered Italian bees four years before, but they had not survived the voyage.

Dzierzon never received the order from Langstroth, Wagner, and Colvin. About this time the United States government attempted to import Italian bees, and S. B. Parsons of Flushing, Long Island, was employed to procure them. Parsons wrote to Langstroth asking his advice about breeding and isseminating the bees when they should arrive. Upon Parsons' invitation, Langstroth went to Flushing and remained there almost two months caring for the imported bees, trying to save as many queens as possible. The bees arrived in hollow sections of trees, but most of the bees were dead. Those that were alive were in very poor condition. Only the loving care of Langstroth saved them. Out of thirty colonies only seven queens survived. But those few queens bred colonies which supplied many a beekeeper with the nucleus of a colony.

Naturally, Langstroth and his son were soon breeding Italian queens and experimenting with this new race of bees in Oxford


Hoping to improve the strain by careful breeding, Langstroth began to import Italian queens from Jan Dzierzon. In 1865, he wrote Dzierzon that although Oxford was not in the best honey district, he had several times obtained nearly 150 pounds of surplus honey from a single stock of Ligurian bees. In 1881, Langstroth summarized more than twenty years of comparative study of the native black bees and the golden-banded Italian bees in a series of articles in the American Bee Journal and in Cleanings in Bee Culture. These articles show the meticulous care taken in his observations. The Italian bees he considered highly superior to the native bees in many respects.

Langstroth and his son were successful in the propagation of the Italian queens. The Langstroth "twenty-dollar queens" were known far and wide. In one year the Langstroths sold 2,000 dollars' worth of Italian queen bees. They were sent by mail to destinations as far as 1,200 and 1,500 miles away, arriving in perfect condition.

In the summer, Father Langstroth was usually happy and contented. When autumn came the old nervous trouble frequently returned. It was a curious form of melancholia, bordering on insanity. Naturally exuberant and joyous, he grew moody and morose as the black shadow fell upon him. It was his custom to exchange papers with Professor McFarland across the way. As the attack came on, he would not look up when he came to exchange the papers.

Always he went about with his eyes cast down when he felt the seizure coming on. "His face would grow sodden and grave, his step slower, no greeting would come from across the hedge" to the children who loved him. They were saddened by the change in their friend and companion. Sometimes, when the shadow began to fall upon him, he would challenge Jennie Brooks (just a slip of a girl in those days) to a game of chess. He had taught her the game, and if by chance she checkmated him, he would rock with laughter. But such days were rare. When he was well, he abhorred chess. When he was ill, he shut himself in his room away from his family until the fit of depression passed. Sometimes the attack lasted for months, accompanied by great prostration of body and mind. He who loved humanity so much could scarcely bear the sight of a human face.

Even his beloved bees he detested. Sometimes even the letter "B"


offended him. Upon waking in the morning, he reached for the chessboard and began to play. Or seated before an open fire, he concentrated upon the most complex problems of chess, courageously fighting to retain his reason. Days of agony, days of despair, dragged slowly by in dreadful monotony. Incredibly fasting, incredibly determined, he fought through to sanity. Then, weak and worn from the bitter struggle, he shyly took his place with his family again. In the fall of 1853, when much depressed, friends sent him to Matamoras, Mexico, to visit a brother. The trip by steamboat, railroad, and stagecoach completely restored him by the time he reached New Orleans. In later life he regretted that he had not had the means and the will immediately to seek a change of scene as soon as he felt the sickness coming on. When he was 64 years old, these attacks became so frequent that he had to give up his apiary.

After that time, he never had more than a few colonies of bees at a time. It was impossible for him to conduct a business of any size after the death of his son. James had contracted tuberculosis during the Civil War and had died from it in 1870.

It was in 1874 that Mrs. Robert White McFarland wrote to her husband that she had called on Mr. Langstroth who lived just across the street.

I went over to Mr. Langstroth's for an hour . .. [she wrote]. Mr. Langstroth was in one of his talkative moods ... He showed us some of his ancient books, read some from Hood's poems. He showed us and read some from Tyndal's translation of the testament. ... I thought Mrs. Cowan might feel proud of such a father.

Waldo Brown considered Langstroth one of the most interesting persons he ever met. The big, blond, rosy-cheeked man was striking in appearance and fascinating in conversation. He had a vast fund of knowledge and a most happy way of imparting it to others. He was deeply religious, but there was no sanctimonious, long-faced piety in his makeup. He believed implicitly in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man and lived according to his faith.

He attended the Presbyterian church in Oxford regularly. On Sunday mornings, after the service, he always paused outside the church door to converse with Brown on the state of the weather and the crops. Invariably, after a good rain had broken a dry spell, he


would extend his hand to his friend Waldo, quoting the 65th psalm, "Thou visitest the earth and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God .... Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof."

Langstroth took an active part in the affairs of the Presbyterian church. At business meetings, if the trustees were weighed down by difficulties, he could always raise their spirits by cheerful remarks or by telling a funny story applicable to their situation. He sometimes occupied the pulpit, and Oxonians considered him an eloquent preacher. One sermon Langstroth preached in that church was long remembered. Its text was, "A virtuous woman who can find? For her price is far above rubies." He became so absorbed in his subject that he held his audience spellbound for an hour and a half.

The "bee man" was as patriotic as he was religious. He sent his only son to the front in the Civil War. With pen and tongue he supported the Union cause and helped to assuage the suffering of war widows and orphans. He had been brought up to hate slavery.

His maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Lorraine Dunn, had taught her slaves to read when such an act was unlawful. She had freed her Negroes and provided for the disabled and the aged, depriving herself of the greater part of a comfortable fortune. Langstroth was against President Hall of Miami University, being convinced that Hall was a Southern sympathizer. He was not entirely right on that score, however. The feeling between Hall and Langstroth, according to a letter written by Professor R. W. McFarland, was so bitter that they quarreled on the street, Hall admitting that he had said that Langstroth deserved a caning. Hall's daughter had resigned her position in the Presbyterian Sunday School and Langstroth hoped that the whole family would resign from the church.

Hall was a Peace Democrat, and Langstroth was heart and soul for the war. One Sunday morning when the tide of battle was running against the North, Langstroth walked into the pulpit of the Presbyterian church much depressed. He began the service by reading the psalm which contains the verse, "Thou executest righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed." Without lifting his eyes from


the Bible, or changing the tone of his voice, he broke forth into the majestic lines of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."17

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth profited very little from his invention and his writings, yet he is recognized at home and abroad as having done more than any other man to make beekeeping profitable. One of the reasons was that he lacked business acumen. Another was his physical affliction, which prostrated him so much of the time. When he first secured his patent, there were no factories to manufacture his hives on an extensive scale, and there was no ready advertising medium in the way of bee journals. The construction of the hive was simple, and a good carpenter could make it quite cheaply. There was no way of preventing a man who understood the principle of the Langstroth hive from making it for himself.

Langstroth was robbed of his rights by shrewd men who boldly in fringed upon his patent. By 1863, he was forced to try to protect himself by obtaining a reissue of his patent, which would expire in 1866. When it came time to prepare the affidavit for the commissioner of patents, Langstroth was too ill to do anything about it. His wife wrote the affidavit, and she wrote it well, under the date of July 25, 1866. In that document she wrote a history of the development of the movable-frame hive18

R. C. Otis of Kenosha, Wisconsin, had bought from Langstroth and Beals the patent right for the sale of hives in the western states and territories. He had a great interest in keeping the patent alive, because he had built up a fine business in the West. But Otis' agents reported sundry hives with movable frames being sold under various subterfuges. Hives had been patented which actually included the Langstroth frame. The story of how Langstroth was defrauded is one of the most sordid in the annals of business.

One of these wily competitors was Homer A. King, in business in New York City. Otis finally sued him for infringement of patent.

In March 1871, Langstroth published in the American Bee Journal a technical statement of how he was tricked by King. It was not a pretty story. In the same issue of the Journal, he addressed the American beekeepers, setting forth the troubles he had had with his 17 Recollections of Waldo Brown, in manuscript; letter, R. W. McFarland to his wife, July 1861.



patent. The story of fraud was in the records of the patent office, and there were men involved in it who deserved drastic punishment.

Langstroth invited all beekeepers in America to send to H. A. King and Company any evidence which would even tend to weaken or invalidate his own claims. He concluded by saying:

I stand upon what I believe to be my rights. If I have none, but am unfortunate enough to be the honest original inventor, who, to his surprise and sorrow, finds that he was not the first inventor, the sooner I know this, the better; that I may at once cease from claiming what would then belong to the public, and not to me.

The case of Otis versus King was never decided in court. During the trial, Langstroth succumbed to his old nervous trouble, and everything stopped. Afterward, Otis' counsel died, and eventually Mr. Otis was committed to an insane asylum, where he died. So ended the famous Otis-King case. Langstroth himself had no intention of going to court to protect his own rights against infringement. In the large territory which he still owned, he trusted all to be guided by their consciences whether or not they should pay him a fee, even though the law allowed him to collect damages for seven years after the patent's expiration. The gentle Langstroth was sorely grieved to find himself, in his old age, beset with trickery and controversy.

King, in his journal, published half-truths and insinuations that put Langstroth in a very embarrassing position. But some of the finest bee men in the country boldly defended him. They were glad to declare that the invention of the first usable movable-frame beehive was Langstroth's, and no other's.19

There is no doubt that the boom in apiculture in the United States and Canada was attributable more to Lorenzo Langstroth than to any other man. The movable-comb hive and Langstroth's manual for beekeepers simplified beekeeping immeasurably. Thanks to Langstroth and a few other enterprising bee lovers, whole colonies of black bees had been transformed in color and character by one fertile, golden, Italian queen. The new bees were more tractable and more industrious, which meant greater production of honey.



Beekeepers began to organize. Eventually a national association was formed. Unfortunately, two calls were sent out at the same time for a national convention in 1870. Two national conventions were held, one in December 1870 at Indianapolis, and one at Cincinnati early in February 1871. At Indianapolis, beekeepers from eleven states, the territory of Utah, and the Dominion of Canada organized the North American Beekeepers' Association. R. C. Otis nominated the Reverend Mr. Langstroth for president, and he was unanimously elected. A letter was read before the association concerning a rival convention to be held in Cincinnati. Apparently, H. A. King had called that convention without authority from his regional association, the Northeastern. About 150 beekeepers from fourteen states and from Canada met in Cincinnati in February and organized the American Beekeepers' Association. Langstroth was unanimously elected president of that association, also. He accepted with the understanding that the election was only a compliment, for his health would permit no assumption of responsibilities.

"Something of a zephyr" was produced at the Thursday afternoon session when H. A. King suavely proposed to raise 5,000 dollars for Langstroth's benefit. King said he would head the list with fifty dollars, and two others subscribed fifty dollars each. Then there was an ominous silence. Presently, a delegate from Canada remarked that there was something mysterious about the manner in which this subscription had been started. It had been insinuated to him that Mr. Langstroth's financial condition was "either" the result of his "misfortunes" or of being "cheated out of his patents."

Mr. Otis then rose to say that if Mr. King would give fifty dollars for charity, he would give five hundred for justice. Mr. King responded that he would give a thousand dollars to have justice done Mr. Langstroth. Mr. Otis came back with the accusation that Mr. King was infringing upon Langstroth's rights with two patents.

The chair ruled that Mr. Otis was out of order. It had been said that Otis had helped to ruin Langstroth, and Otis defied anyone to say, in his presence, that such was the case. The subscription was finally referred to a committee with King at its head.20 Langstroth said nothing till the committee brought in a favorable report con 20 Cincinnati Commercial, February 9, 1871.



cerning the fund. Then he said that he did not wish his personal affairs to be considered by the association and that he wished the matter to go no further.

At the convention, Langstroth was frequently and most respectfully asked for his opinion. His informal remarks upon the cultivation of bees were so well received that the association voted that Langstroth should have the special privilege of speaking whenever he chose and for as long as he wished to talk.

In 1874, Langstroth suffered a great sorrow in the death of his beloved wife. In 1887, he removed with his daughter, Mrs. H. C. Cowan, and her family to Dayton, Ohio.

As he grew older, the mental affliction troubled him less. In September 1895, he was able to go to a meeting of the North American Beekeepers' Association at Toronto, Canada. There he addressed the convention and related the story of his labors with an early shipment of Italian bees. On October 6, 1895, he died in the Wayne Avenue Presbyterian Church in Dayton, just as he was beginning a sermon on the love of God. It was fitting that he should die thus, for he ever loved the ministry and never ceased to regret that he could not pursue his chosen calling. Always he wore the clerical collar.

He was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery at Dayton. The stone that marks his grave is the gift of many grateful beekeepers, and is suitably inscribed to the "Father of American Beekeeping."

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth was a prince among men. Few suffered more cruelly at the hand of their fellows than he, but there was no room in his great heart for bitterness and revenge. He was straightforward and kind, more wise and discerning in the ways of bees than in the ways of men. One of his admirers said that there was "a lofty dignity and moral majesty" about him that was deeply impressive. As Amos Ives Root said, "He was a poet, a sage, a philosopher, and a humanitarian all in one."


  • 1 Langstroth's "Reminiscences," in Gleanings in Bee Culture, XX, 761-762, quoted in Florence Naile, The Life of Langstroth (Ithaca, N.Y., 1942), 36.
  • 2 Naile, Langstroth, 35.
  • 3 Oxford Citizen, October 11, 1895.
  • 4 Naile, Langstroth, 41-53.
  • 5 Ibid., 53-62; letter by F. N. Thompson, dated Greenfield, December 17, 1939, in Springfield (Mass.) Republican.
  • 6 See Dictionary of American Biography, X, 598-599.
  • 7 Kent L. Pellett, "The Father of Movable Frames," in American Bee Journal, LXVIII (1928), 509-510, 556-557, 569.
  • 8 L. L. Langstroth, A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-Bee (Philadelphia, 1875), 16.
  • 9 Naile, Langstroth, 71-74.
  • 10 See Naile, Langstroth, chap. V. In a manuscript compilation of facts after a research trip to Oxford more than twenty years ago, Florence Naile quoted E. R. Root as saying: "Imagine, if you can, all the frames in all the hives of bees suddenly be coming immovably fixed, never to be taken out again except as they were cut out, and you will have a fair idea of what beekeeping had been through all the centuries until the days of Langstroth."
  • 11 See Ohio Cultivator, VIII (1852), 357.
  • 12 See Naile, Langstroth, chap. VI.
  • 13 Charles Dadant was a highly successful apiarist in Hamilton, Illinois. He wrote for bee journals in France before coming to the United States, and continued to write for them after he established his apiary in Hamilton. He took up the cudgels for the American way of apiculture, which, of course, was based on Langstroth's hive and writings. Charles and his son Camille finally acquired Samuel Wagner's American Bee Journal in 1912.
  • 14 Naile, Langstroth, 93, fn.
  • 15 Memoir of Langstroth, in manuscript, by Jennie Brooks of Oxford.
  • 16 Conversation with George Peck, now deceased.
  • 17 Recollections of Waldo Brown, in manuscript; letter, R. W. McFarland to his wife, July 1861.
  • 18 Quoted in Naile, Langstroth, 123-129.
  • 19 Ibid., 129-142.

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