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How Lorenzo Langstroth’s Hive Shaped Beekeeping

During the spring and summer months, honeybees are at their busiest, producing honey nonstop. As long as the plants that provide them with nectar remain in bloom, honeybees create more every day!

Each year, we are able to ensure the steady production of honey to be harvested for a variety of purposes thanks to innovators like National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Lorenzo Langstroth, who invented the modern beehive.


Building a Better Approach to Beekeeping

Born in Philadelphia on Dec. 25, 1810, Langstroth graduated from Yale College (now Yale University) in 1831. While serving as a pastor at various churches across Massachusetts, Langstroth experimented with beekeeping and hives as a hobby.

Honeybees are essential pollinators, and with the honey harvested from domesticated honeybees, we have created foods, sweeteners and even topical antibiotics. Maintaining reliable honey production requires beekeepers to monitor the health, habits and containment of bees — which they could not adequately do prior to Langstroth’s work.

One of the keys to Langstroth’s invention of the modern beehive in 1851 was his recognition of “bee space,” or the idea that bees will not obstruct passages that are approximately their own size (about one quarter of an inch). Bees will not build honeycombs in such a space, nor will they close the space with propolis, or the “bee glue” they produce to seal off open areas.

Langstroth’s understanding of “bee space” led him to invent a top-opening hive in which he left one bee-sized space between the frames where the bees build their honeycombs and the coverboard above them.

Because of this space, the bees would not seal off the tops of the frames — and this meant the frames were removable. This made it easier for beekeepers to not only gather honey but also inspect the hives for disease and monitor the health of colonies while preventing the bees from leaving.


Supporting Efficient Honey Production

Though the art of beekeeping has been practiced since at least the days of ancient Egypt, Langstroth’s beehive revolutionized it and helped turn it into an industry.

Patented in 1852, his hive boosted overall honey production by allowing the bees to fill old combs with new honey. This and his subsequent innovations made large-scale beekeeping more cost-effective.

The impact of Langstroth’s work continues today. In fact, 75% of all beehives currently in use are based on his design, with larger boxes at the bottom to house the brood and the bees’ food, and smaller boxes at the top to contain the frames filled with honeycombs. A filter keeps the queen bee confined from the rest of the hive.

The book Langstroth published in 1853 to provide practical advice on beekeeping, “Langstroth’s Hive and the Honey-Bee,” has been made available in more than 40 editions and is still in print.


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