This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXVIII, Number 1 - Winter 2012
Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895) was a minister and school principal who took up beekeeping as an antidote to debilitating periods of depression. As a young child, he had keenly observed the habits of insects, an interest that ultimately earned him the unchallenged title of Father of American Beekeeping.
Born in Philadelphia on December 25, 1810, the young Langstroth was reputedly scolded by his parents for wearing holes in the knees of his trousers while watching ants. He graduated in 1831 from Yale University, where he tutored from 1834 to 1835. After his brief stint at Yale, he served as pastor of several congregations in Massachusetts, including the South Congregational Church in Andover, in 1836. He returned to Philadelphia and became principal of a school for young women in 1848.
Fascinated since childhood by the intricate and orderly kingdom of honeybees, Langstroth discovered "bee space," an open space measuring three-eighths (or less) of an inch that honeybees did not fill to bond their combs to hives. To remedy this, he invented the world's first moveable-frame beehive, which revolutionized the beekeeping industry and the production of honey by incorporating bee space in a top-opened hive. In the summer of 1851, he had realized that by leaving an even, approximately bee-sized gap between the tops of the frames holding the honeycomb and the flat coverboard above, he was able to easily remove the coverboard which was usually cemented to the fram with proplis, a resinous substance collected from the buds of certain trees by bees and used as a sealant or cement in the construction of their hives, makin gthem difficult to separate. If a small space, approximately one-quarter of an inch or less remained, the bees filled it with propolis; when a larger space, more than three-eights of an inch, was left, the bees filled it with comb instead. He received a patent for his invention on October 5, 1852. However, his patent was ignored and he never received royalties. Langstroth's hives are commonly used today.
At the time of Langstroth's development of the new hive, honey was the primary sweetener in American diets so his new techniques were significant. In 1853, he published The Hive and the Honey-Bee (still in print with forty editions), followed by Langstroth on the Hive and Honey Bee in 1860. Langstroth left Philadelphia and moved to Ohio after 1858. He died on October 6, 1895, while giving a sermon at the Wayne Avenue Presbyterian Church in Dayton.
On September 10, 2010, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) dedicated a state historical marker commemorating the apiarist at his birthplace in Philadelphia, at 106 S. Front St., to coincide with the bicentennial of his birth.
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