Bees & Beekeeping: Present & Past

When the American Bee Journal Was Weekly

- June 1, 2019 - Wyatt A. Mangum - (excerpt)

American Bee Journal Vintage Beekeeping Cover

The year was 1894 and the American Bee Journal was published weekly (see Figure 1). Fifty-two issues rapidly filled two volumes (33 and 34), the numbers running from one to 26 in each volume. With about 60 pages in midsize format, the publication schedule must have been intense with various submitted articles, more steady column articles, and a slew of advertisements.

At that time the American Bee Journal was owned and published by the George W. York Company located in Chicago, Illinois. While the American Bee Journal began as monthly from its inception in 1861 and through the 1870s, the weekly pace began in the 1880s and continued into the 1890s. Sadly though, some content was systematically lost in some back copies.

Usually bound volumes of old bee journals have their wraps removed, which are the back and front covers and the advertisements surrounding the text. (The text and advertisements were not mixed throughout the pages as with the modern layout.)

While that page removal thinned the binding, saved shelf space, and removed the redundancy of the serial advertisements, it also removed considerable historical content of the bee equipment offered for sale. Figure 2 shows two bindings of the American Bee Journal for 1894. The binding on the left has the wraps removed. On the right, the wraps remain. In addition, the digital copies of the American Bee Journal and Bee Culture that I have seen for sale on the internet have had their wraps mostly removed from early years, which is the typical format.

Digital copies of these journals with their wraps included would be a true and rich historical record. Now let’s look at American beekeeping from over a century ago.

As today, in 1894, the journal featured column articles. Dr. C. C. Miller wrote a General Questions column where he dealt with topics that would be familiar today. In the February 8th issue, a beekeeper wanted to know how to raise some queens for home use. Another beekeeper in New York wanted to know about candy for feeding bees in the winter, except his beehives were in a cellar. Wintering hives in cellars was more common in those days. While protecting bees from the bitter cold, cellar wintering involved numerous other difficulties (maintaining the correct temperature of the cellar, its humidity, and most critically, when to bring out the hives in the spring). Dr. Miller authored several beekeeping books still read by beekeepers today.

(Editor’s note: See our April 2019 issue’s “From the Archives” for excerpts from Dr. Miller’s columns.)

Mrs. Jennie Atchley of Beeville, Texas conducted her column titled In Sunny South Land, where she taught lessons on beekeeping and occasionally gave advice. In the June 7th issue, her column was titled Profitable Bee-keeping Lesson No. 3. She instructed new beekeepers on the numerous details for producing section comb honey, a labor-intensive endeavor. With their abundant forage before all the habitat destruction that we endure today, a beekeeper could make surplus honey from their first year. Mrs. Atchley advised her readers:

Should you be at all this trouble and expense, and not get any honey, or but very little the first year, do not be discouraged, but sing just as merrily, and be (or try to be) as happy as if you had a carload of honey to sell, for it really takes this kind of grit to make a good bee-keeper.

(By carload, she was exaggerating to mean a boxcar on a railroad, not an automobile. For example in that time period, to “ride the cars” meant to ride the connecting passenger trains.)

In the mid 1890s, section comb honey still dominated the honey market, although extracted honey was gaining acceptance. (Extracted honey had to overcome the problem of easy adulteration from various sweeteners.)  Section comb honey was labor-intensive, beginning with assembling the little wooden section boxes, to attaching foundation in them, and then loading the section boxes in the supers.

In the June 28th issue, O. H. Townsend, a beekeeper from Kalamazoo, Michigan, showed his “Perfection” section press, a device to lock the joint of the last corner of the section box (see Figure 3). First the beekeeper partly folds the section in the “V” notch under the lever. Next the finger joints are aligned under the notch in the lever. Pulling down on the lever quickly locks the finger joints together. Townsend’s section press could be mounted on a wall. Figure 4 shows a very similar section press, probably based on the Townsend design. The return spring holds the lever up and out of the way until needed.

Beekeepers proudly showed their apiaries in the pages of the American Bee Journal, much like today. The July 12th issue shows the home and apiary of Mrs. Sallie E. Sherman of Bell County, Texas (see Figure 5). The left row of hives is familiar, stacked in three-deep supers for extracted honey. From these hives and others, Mrs. Sherman had harvested 2,200 pounds of extracted honey by June, and she expected more.

The hives on the right of Figure 5 with what appear to be telescoping covers with very deep sides are more cryptic. These hives are for section comb honey. Under the covers are only one or two ….