Patents Causing a Buzz!

Spring has sprung and the bees are a buzzin’! Beekeeping and bee hives have a long and interesting history. People have been collecting honey for thousands of years – starting out by simply foraging from wild hives. However, the first recorded instance of beekeeping was the ancient Egyptians. They created hives from hollowed out trees that mimicked natural hives. Honey was a luxury during that time and was often added to burial sites.

Early beekeeping may have been enjoyed by people, but it was a death sentence for the bees. Honey could only be harvested after the bees were ejected from their hives, which would kill entire colonies. It wasn’t until the late 1700s when hives were created that prevented killing the bees inside. This design included the removable lids and hanging frames seen in many beehives today, with the frames providing a support for the bees to deposit honey onto.

During the mid to late 1800s, hundreds of patents were filed in the United States relating to beekeeping. In RG 241 Utility Patent Drawings, there are over 200 beehive patents digitized in the catalog so far. Some of these are extremely simple, like the two A-frame type hives seen below.

RG 241: Utility Patent Drawings, 1837-1911, (NAID 305888). D. McC. Calvin Bee – Hives (NAID 196012050).
RG 241: Utility Patent Drawings, 1837-1911, (NAID 305888). Eugene W. Diefendorf Bee Hive (NAID 196016508).

Other hive designs are more complex, with many people making improvements on past designs. Most of the designs during this time period are large square boxes with many compartments within. The design below by Frederick Wolfersberger claims to be a “Bee Pallace [Palace]” and it does certainly look extravagant! 

RG 241: Utility Patent Drawings, 1837-1911, (NAID 305888). Oliver P. Reeve and Christopher C. Parker Bee Hive (NAID 172069786).
RG 241: Utility Patent Drawings, 1837-1911, (NAID 305888). Frederick Wolfersberger’s Bee Palace (NAID 284337311).

While many of the beehives look very similar, there are always some gems to find in our collection. In one of the earlier designs, John Sholl created a beehive out of an existing wooden barrel! We can also find beekeeping accessories in this series, such as the protective mask seen below.

RG 241: Utility Patent Drawings, 1837-1911, (NAID 305888). John Sholl’s Improvements in Bee Hives (NAID 233585213).
RG 241: Utility Patent Drawings, 1837-1911, (NAID 305888). L.C. Huff Protecting Masks for Bee-Keepers (NAID 194656886).

The Utility Patent Drawing series has so many surprises inside! They are part of an ongoing digitization project, so who knows what we will discover in the future.

Thompson, S. (2022, November 3). The evolution and history of beekeeping – powerblanket honey warming solutions. Powerblanket. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from

Roos, D. (2018, September 17). How beekeeping works. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from 

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