Historical Markers
Lorenzo L. Langstroth Historical Marker
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Lorenzo L. Langstroth

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
106 South Front Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
September 10, 2010

Behind the Marker

“The Creator may be seen in all the works of his hands; but in few more directly than in the wise economy of the Honey-Bee…. It was, we know, the constant practice of our Lord and Master, to illustrate his teachings from the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, and the common walks of life and pursuits of man. Common Sense, Experience and Religion alike dictate that we should marker follow his example.
                                                                                                Lorenzo L. Langstroth, The Hive and the Honey Bee, 1853.

Photograph of Lorenzo L. Langstroth, the "Father of American Beekeeping," taken in 1858.
Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1858.
In the 1850s, Congregationalist minister Lorenzo L. Langstroth knew more about honeybees than anyone in America. His discovery of bee-space and invention of the movable frame hive in Philadelphia would revolutionize the beekeeping industry, and earn him the title, “Father of American Beekeeping.”

Born on December 25, 1810, Langstroth spent much of his childhood playing with ants on the gravel sidewalks outside his Philadelphia home. After earning a degree in theology from Yale College in 1831, he served as a pastor in number of Congregational churches in Massachusetts. In 1836 Langstroth married Anne Tucker, a loving wife who would support him through his debilitating, life long “head troubles” and bouts of depression.  Occupied with his studies at Yale, Langstroth had forgotten about insects. Then, in 1838, the sight of a honeycomb in a large glass globe on a friend’s table revived his childhood curiosity. He returned home that day with two colonies of bees. From then on, Langstroth devoted himself to the keeping and studying of bees.
After moving his family to Philadelphia in 1848, Langstroth set up a two-acre apiary in West Philadelphia. Plagued by continued ill health he spent more and more of his time with his bees, immersed himself in the scientific literature on beekeeping, and tackled head on the challenge of developing a hive that would make beekeeping more practical. In 1851, Langstroth devised a mo­­­vable frame hive that gave him unprecedented control over the honeycombs. In a reminiscence, published in 1893, he would recall the exact moment of his breakthrough.
Line illustration of L. L. Langstroth's Bee Hive Patent, from 1852.
L. L. Langstroth Bee Hive Patent Illustration, #1, 1852.

“Returning late in the afternoon from the apiary which I had established some two miles from my city home [at the corner of Chestnut and Schuylkill Streets] and pondering…the almost self-evident idea of using the same bee-space…came into my mind, and in a moment the suspended movable frames, kept at a suitable distance from each other and the case containing them, came into being…I could scarcely refrain from shouting out my marker ‘Eureka’ in the open streets.”  
Advertisement Illustration of a man holding a removal frame from a Langstroth beehive, circa 1858.
Langstroth beehive advertisement, circa 1858.

The bee-space Langstroth referred to is a 3/8-inch gap, a space wide enough for a bee to fly through but narrow enough that it will not fill it with propolis, the resinous material collected from tree buds and sap that bees use as a cement.  Improving upon Swiss beekeeper Francis Huber’s “Leaf Hive” by implementing his bee-space concept between stackable frames, Langstroth made it possible for beekeepers to remove and inspect frames without destroying the combs or harming the bees. 
Working with Philadelphia cabinetmaker Henry Bourquin, Langstroth constructed a wooden hive with moveable frames. After obtaining a patent for his hive on October 5, 1852, he sold his wooden hives made by Bourquin to beekeepers across the United States.

The Langstroth Hive gave beekeepers unprecedented control of their colonies. They could now remove honey without damaging combs or angering bees, inspect the health of their hives, produce honey in a comb that was easy to extract and attractive to the eye, and increase honey production. In addition, more bees survived the harvest season, so beekeepers, not having to replace their colonies, could invest in larger beekeeping operations.
Frontpiece of Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee: A Bee Keeper's Manual, Northampton, MA: Hopkins, Bridgman & Co., 1853. Shows illustration of queen bee surrounded by worker bees wrapped by text "Every Good Mother Should be the Honored Queen of a Happy Family."
Frontpiece, Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee: A Bee Keeper's Manual,...

Langstroth had been helped in his breakthrough by Samuel Wagner, a newspaper publisher and beekeeping enthusiast in York, PA, who had translated for Langstroth the work of Dzierson of Silesia, the leading European observer of the life of the hive.  Recognizing that Langstroth’s hive was superior to the one designed by Dzierson, Wagner encouraged Langstroth to write a book on his new hive and his system of bee hive management. Unable to work more than half of each year because of his “head troubles,” Langstroth moved back to Greenfield, Massachusetts, to live with his sister and look for investors.  There, too, he wrote the book, installments of which he sent to his wife Anne in Philadelphia to prepare for the printer.

Published in 1853, Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee provided unsurpassed practical advice on bee management. The simplicity of the Langstroth Hive made it easy to copy. Quickly, beekeepers around the world adopted the Langstroth Hive, despite his efforts to end infringements of his patent, and introduced their own modifications.
In the 1850s Langstroth and Wagner also discussed the need of a professional periodical for American beekeepers, like those published in Europe. In 1861, Wagner published the first issue of the American Bee Journal, for which Langstroth wrote the lead column.  Publication was suspended during the American Civil War, but resumed in 1866. For the next three decades Langstroth was a regular contributor.
Photograph of Lorenzo L. Langstroth, the "Father of American Beekeeping, sitting in an apiary and holding a frame from his moveable frame beehive.
Lorenzo L. Langstroth with his moveable frame beehive, circa 1890.

Endlessly imitated and modified, the Langstroth Hive helped make commercial honey production and bee pollination large-scale industries. By the 1880s, the majority of American beekeepers used some form of the Langstroth Hive. By the late twentieth century, more than 100 American crops and one-third of the American food supply depended upon bee pollination.  In 2010, nearly 15,000 beekeepers resided in Pennsylvania and honeybees were the most widely used pollinators for the 80 percent of state crops that depend on insect pollination.

After living with his sister in Greenfield for six years, Langstroth in 1858 gathered his family back together and moved to Oxford, Ohio. There, between continued struggles with illness, he devoted his time to beekeeping and research, writing articles, and playing chess. In 1863, Langstroth became one of the first Americans to import the Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica), whose queen bees he and his son sold to beekeepers across the United States. (Today, the Italian bee is the most popular commercial bee in North America).  In 1874, Langstroth retired from beekeeping.  He died in 1895 while giving a sermon at the Wayne Avenue Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio, where he lived with his daughter.
Upon his tombstone, in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery can be found the following words:
“Inscribed to the memory of Rev. L.L Langstroth, ‘Father of American beekeeping,’ by his affectionate beneficiaries who, in the remembrance of the service 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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