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Golden Age of Beekeeping

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Abstract

1297 W this story, I was intending to call it the "History of Beekeeping in New York." But my wife, who is perhaps more realistic than I, stated that such a guys with beards. This took most of the wind out of my sails, but a new gust blew which she thought a great improvement. The truth is, the Golden Age of Beekeeping did take place largely in New York State. The reasons for this are many, but among them include the vast areas planted to clover and buckwheat and the huge population centers in and around New York City. Yet, more than that, it was many ingenious and forward looking New Yorkers who took beekeeping from a quaint cottage industry the sake of comparison, let's look quickly at 2.5 million pounds of honey, and 138 thousand pounds of beeswax. In 2011, the honey production in NY was almost the same, 2.8 million pounds. But bear in mind, in 1860 this was all done with man power and horse drawn carriages. Produce was shipped downstate via barges. But I am getting ahead of myself. The story really begins in New York City. The island of Manhattan was a garden paradise by. It grew to be one of the biggest cities in the world by the 1800s. As the city spread, agriculture was pushed out, but never too far, as the costs of transporting goods would always eat into the price. In the early 19th century, across the rivers, were areas that kept their rural character. Long Island in particular, was well situated to grow crops for the appetites of city dwellers.
December 2013 1297
W       
this story, I was intending to call
it the “History of Beekeeping in
New York.” But my wife, who is perhaps
more realistic than I, stated that such a

guys with beards. This took most of the
wind out of my sails, but a new gust blew
        
which she thought a great improvement.
The truth is, the Golden Age of Beekeeping
did take place largely in New York State.
The reasons for this are many, but among
them include the vast areas planted to clover
and buckwheat and the huge population
centers in and around New York City. Yet,
more than that, it was many ingenious and
forward looking New Yorkers who took
beekeeping from a quaint cottage industry
    
the sake of comparison, let’s look quickly at
 
2.5 million pounds of honey, and 138
thousand pounds of beeswax. In 2011, the
honey production in NY was almost the
same, 2.8 million pounds. But bear in mind,
in 1860 this was all done with man power
and horse drawn carriages. Produce was
shipped downstate via barges.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The
story really begins in New York City. The
island of Manhattan was a garden paradise
  
by. It grew to be one of the biggest cities in
the world by the 1800s. As the city spread,
agriculture was pushed out, but never
too far, as the costs of transporting goods
would always eat into the price. In the early
19th century, across the rivers, were areas
that kept their rural character. Long Island
in particular, was well situated to grow
crops for the appetites of city dwellers.
Within eyesight of Manhattan, in what is
now known as Astoria, Queens, there was
an American beekeeping pioneer by the
name of Thomas Miner. He lived in the
neighborhood called Ravenswood, and
began writing about bees for the American
Agriculturist     
“Management of Honey Bees”, begins:
The art of managing bees in this
country is but very imperfectly under-
-
ductiveness are concerned. It is gener-
ally supposed that bees require little or
no air, and if they prove unproductive,
or are lost from the ravages of the bee-
moth, it is a matter of chance, wholly
beyond the control of the owner. I
now propose giving the result of my
own experience in the management of
bees for some years, on Long Island
… I think my remarks will not prove
wholly void of interest.
New York City Beginnings
And so we begin the long and intricate
story of beekeeping in New York. I am
afraid it will involve an excessive number
of bald guys with beards. Not too many
     
my friend Tammy Horn has written a
great book on women beekeepers, called
Beeconomy. Women play a very important
role in today’s beekeeping world, especially
research. But in the 1800s, it was mostly a
guy thing. Miner wrote for the magazines
for several years and traveled upstate to
visit beekeepers there. At some point he

living from bees, he would have to leave
Long Island for the Upstate region. He
wrote in his column:
I would observe, that in differ-
ent parts of the country, the labors of
bees vary according to the bee-pastur-
age about them. In a location where
the white clover (Trifolium repem)
abounds profusely, as in Herkimer
county, State of New York, and some
other great grazing counties, a swarm
will produce much more honey and
wax, than on Long Island, where the
honey harvest is not so abundant.
Then, he moved Upstate. Miner settled
 
Herkimer. He never really prospered as
a beekeeper, but continued to write and
started several journals. His “Northern
     
published in the US
American Bee Journal1298

Farmer” began in 1852, and was devoted
to the topics of Agriculture, Horticulture,
Floriculture, Bees, and -- Poultry, another
great interest of his. In fact, he seemed
fascinated by the varieties of domestic
fowl. He published “The Rural American”
which didn’t do as well as he would have
liked, and experimented extensively with
breeding varieties of fruit such as grapes
and strawberries. He eventually retired to
the town of Linden, New Jersey, where he
died in 1878. His name is little remembered
among beekeeping enthusiasts, but his
work was surely ahead of his time.
Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained
The name that is more well known, of
course, is Moses Quinby. He was also born
downstate and moved up to St. Johnsville,
which is also about 15 miles from Herkimer,
though in the opposite direction from
   
increase his holdings into the hundreds
of hives. In 1853, he wrote the next great
American book on bees, which he called:
“Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained.” The
full title reads:
Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained
being a complete analysis of the whole
subject. The natural history of bees,
directions for obtaining the greatest
amount of pure surplus honey with the
least possible expense, remedies for
losses given, and the science of “luck”
fully illustrated – the result of more
than twenty years of experience in ex-
tensive apiaries.
But Quinby is remembered mostly for
his invention of the tool still in use today,
the bee smoker. For centuries, it had been
      
methods of application were never quite
adequate to the job. When the bees are
amiable, a few puffs from a Meerschaum
might do, but there are times when billows
of smoke are called for. The story goes that
       
the subject and came up with the idea of
pairing a bellows to a can and the modern
bee smoker was born.
Moses Quinby was born in the town
of North Castle, near what is now White
Plains, New York, but his family moved
up the Hudson to Coxsackie when he was
young. At eighteen he became interested in
bees, and used money earned working at a

his holdings of box hives and began the
practice of cutting a hole in the top of the
box, in order to get bees to store honey
in another box placed over the hole. This
became the basis for adding “supers” or
“supering” as beekeepers do it today. Prior
to that, the bees were killed in order to take
the honey. The improvement being, that
the surplus honey could now be removed,
leaving enough for the colony below to
survive.
Moving to Greener Pastures
In 1853, Quinby and his wife moved
Upstate and he began expanding in
earnest. Even though he was quite
successful producing honey in plain
boxes, he immediately saw the advantage
in Langstroth’s invention of the moveable
comb hive, where the combs were mounted
in wood frames, giving complete control
over the inner workings of the hive. This
was followed by a series of advances
including the centrifugal honey extractor,
embossed beeswax sheets for starting
combs (called foundation) and, of course,
Quinby’s own bee smoker.
New York State became the largest
honey-producing region in the world.
Moses Quinby was one of the foremost
teachers, experimenters, and promoters of
    
spread and inspired other notable New
Yorkers, such as Captain J. E. Hetherington
who expanded his holdings to 3000 hives
in the vicinity of Cherry Valley. Others
included P. H. Elwood of Starkville, and L.
C. Root. Quinby died at the age of 65, right
in the middle of the Golden Age, which he
helped bring about.
Lyman C. Root married Quinby’s
daughter and joined the business. They
sold supplies and also made a handsome
amount of money by buying up hundreds of
traditional box hives and transferring them
into frame hives for re-sale. When Quinby
died, L. C. took over the business and also
produced an updated version of “Quinby’s
New Beekeeping” in 1885. According to
its editor, Root had so thoroughly rewritten
the book that he had every right to call it
his own, but chose to honor his mentor and
father-in-law in the title. In his preface,
he writes:
We have long felt the need of a bee
journal edited by a practical bee-keep-
er who would, in the broadest sense,
      
and practical apiculture; one that was
in no way connected with a supply
trade, and consequently free to speak
of everything used by bee-keepers
as the merits demand. We have had
no such journal until the appearance
Quinby Smoker
December 2013 1299
of the “American Apiculturist” in
May, 1883.
Beginnings of The New York State
Beekeepers’ Association
Both Mr. Quinby and Mr. Root were
active in the New York State association,
which continues today with the name of
Empire State Honey Producers Association.
Actually, it has had many different names,
but was probably begun in 1868. They
met in Utica, NY in 1870 with Quinby as
president. Famous beekeepers in attendance
included Capt. Hetherington, Van Douzen
and L. C. Root. The minutes of the meeting
were reported in the American Bee Journal.
The association held its 7th meeting
1877 at the Temperance Hotel in Syracuse.
It was moved and carried that, “No member
be allowed to speak more than twice, and

The annual convention was convened
in 1885 in Syracuse, NY at the City Hall.
Attendance was estimated at 200, including
most of the prominent honey producers
in the state. L. C. Root presided. He gave
great importance to developing the honey
market. His points included:
Anything tending to educate in the
direction of raising the quality of our
honey to a higher standard is exactly
in line with creating and strengthening
      
be a prime quality, and a complete and
-
tive and agreeable to handle. We need
to guard and foster most strenuously
the fact that our product is a pure and
wholesome article of food.
These are essentially the same issues
beekeepers of New York are dealing
with today. Honey’s reputation has been
tarnished by a glut of cheap imported honey
of marginal quality. New York has always
produced a stellar product and the public is
entitled to have it in its pure fresh form. Mr.
Root was a successful beekeeper, producing
42 thousand pounds of honey from 400
colonies in 1886, while maintaining eleven
acres of fruits and vegetables grown for
market.
The Legendary Coggshall Family
As I mentioned, the State Association
changed its name on a regular basis. In
February of 1880, it met in Utica, NY under
the name of North-Eastern Bee Keepers
Association. The president was L. C. Root,
residing in Mohawk. Among the beekeepers
in attendance was one Mr. Coggshall,
who reported producing 4200 pounds of
extracted honey and another 900 pounds of
“comb honey” which is honey comb sold in
small wood boxes in which the bees have
stored it. From these modest beginnings,
Mr. Coggshall went on the become the
biggest beekeeper in the world. In 1890, W.
L. Coggshall claimed to own somewhere
between 3000 and 3200 hives “he does
not know exactly how many.” These were

Cayuga Lake and Skaneateles. The home
base was in Groton, NY.
Coggshall gave the greatest importance
to location. He was situated at the center
of the vast white clover and buckwheat
region which stretched from Massachusetts
to Ohio. It is hard to imagine now, as there
are so few acres planted to these crops
any more. Much of the land has reverted
to forests, and what farmland remains
consists mostly of corn, hay, and fruit trees.
The clover was planted as forage for the
huge dairy industry, and buckwheat was
a food source favored by the immigrant
populations who had become accustomed
to it as a staple in the old countries.
  
apiary in 1878, at a time when most of the
beekeepers kept their hives at home. In
each yard there would be a shed 12 x 16
feet which was large enough to hold the
equipment needed for 80 to 100 colonies.
Each shed would also contain a honey
extractor, uncapping knifes, containers to
catch the honey, and tin pails for water.
Additionally, there would be a complete set
of hammers and nails, screws and drivers,
wire screens, a smoker with two spare
bellows, long wisp brooms from brushing
off bees, and a wheel barrow. The shed
was not stocked with bee veils, as each
beekeeper was expected to have his own.
In the Coggshall philosophy, the three
factors needed for success in beekeeping
depended on the quality of the location,
the men, and the hives. Having an
excellent location, he employed a unique
group of men who could perform the hive
manipulations according to his instructions.
These methods were reported extensively in
the bee journals of the time, so that few did
not know of the Coggshall Method. There
is an old saying among beekeepers that you
must either work so slowly that the bees
don’t know you are there, or so quickly.
The Coggshall crew worked at a
blazing pace; “lightning operators” was
the term used by E. R. Root. The hives
were quickly opened, often by yanking or
even kicking the boxes apart. The honey
frames were rapidly shaken with a studied
trembling technique which dislodged most
of the bees. These were handed off to the
extracting crew which usually consisted

Residence of David H. Coggshall, West Groton, NY
American Bee Journal1300
of teenagers in a cramped shed, right there
in the bee yard. These boys spun the honey
from the frames and the fresh honey was run
into wooden barrels. At the end of the day,
the drums were loaded on to horse drawn
wagons and taken back to the home base.
Farm Life in Groton, NY
We are indeed fortunate that Verne
Morton was also residing in Groton at the
time, for with his large format camera, he
documented the daily life of farm families.
Among the many sights that caught his
interest were the comings and goings of the
Coggshall family. Both W. T. Coggshall and
his brother, David, appeared regularly in the
pages of Gleanings in Bee Culture, one of
the major magazines of the time. In fact,
the glass negatives are safely preserved by
the Tompkins County Historical Society, in
Ithaca. It is much is easier to get a sense of
what life was like by gazing at these scenes
from over one hundred years ago. The
Coggshall’s built some of the nicest houses
in the vicinity using the money from the sale
of honey, and these houses still stand as a
testament to that Golden Age.
One of the topics of the day, in the late
1800s, was how to successfully over-winter
colonies of bees. When all of the hives were
kept in the home yard, the usual practice
was to move them into cellars. But some of
Coggshall’s bee yards were up to forty miles
from home, and they were left to pass the
winter on site. This inspired lots of novel
plans, including the packing case.
Individual packing cases were built from
wood and these would be placed over the
hives. Enough space was allowed between
        
with straw, wood shavings, or other cheap
insulating material. Some of these cases
were large enough to hold eight colonies
at once. Unfortunately, it was learned the
hard way that too much insulation would
tend to trap moisture inside and the bee
colonies actually did worse with heavy
packing. To this day, however, wintering
in cold climates vexes beekeepers. One of
the solutions to winter, of course, is to move
south. Coggshalls did just that, establishing
apiaries in warmer locations such as Arizona
and Cuba.
Another Coggshall neighbor, Harry
Howe, wrote for the bee journals and gave
us a sense of how W. L. Coggshall thought.
He tells us of riding along with his mentor,
(l) An outyard of W.L. Coggshall, showing tenement hive used. Photo by Verne Morton (r) One of the outyards of W.L.
Cogshall Photo by Verne Morton
W.L. Cogshall
horse and buggy style, over the rough roads
to the apiary and discussing the latest bee
journal articles. The question that came up
was often: “Is he a success, personally? Are
the ideas advanced as the result of personal
experiments, or are they mere theories
evolved out of the reading of some other
man’s work?”
        
pay?” As an example of the calculation he
would make, in those days it was common
to hire someone to stay in each bee yard
all day long, in order to catch any swarms
that might emerge from the hives when
the regular crew was elsewhere. Coggshall
      

       
dollars is lost, and that would pay a man for
only a half week’s wages. No sir.”
In 1899, Harry reported that on August 25,
in the height of the buckwheat harvest, W.
L. Coggshall was harvesting from 3000 to
5000 pounds of honey a day, in the vicinity
of Ithaca, NY. Bear in mind, this was all
done by hand, there were no motors nor
electricity. Harry assures us that “both the
Coggshalls make money at anything they
undertake” and that W. L. (Lamar) sold 78
thousand pounds in 1897, his brother David
produced somewhat less, but it amounted

of them.
By 1904, W. L. Coggshall had the
reputation of being the world’s largest
honey producer. Tompkins County produced
more honey than any other county in the
state: 236,000 pounds. The Coggshall clan
eventually moved to Florida, having had
enough of the vexing New York State
winters. (To be continued)
  
work in the out yards.

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