If anyone knows of any inaccuracies in this text, I would be
obliged to receive corrections. (And any additional Information for
inclusion, that would make it more complete.)|
Any items that I am unsure about will
show in GREEN text.
references are in BLUE text
Giovanni Rucellai writes about hives
with combs built on moveable top bars.
1609 In Butler's
"Feminine Monarchie" there is a mention of
hives built up to four tiers in height.
1650 approx. A glass sided hive was built, it was
intended to be a single comb observation hive, but as bee space was
not understood it was built with too great a space between the glass
panes and thus the bees built multiple combs at right angles to the
glass. Samuel Pepys the diarist mentions
traveling to see it.
1652 Rector William Mewe, (could have been Mew) of Eastington in
Gloucestershire, England, built hives of wood with moveable top bars,
but no dimensions are available. (It may have been octagonal.)
1675 In Greece basket shaped bodies without
bottoms or tops were used with bars across the open top to enable the
support and removal of individual combs. (as illustration right)
1682 Wheler reports on a Greek hive having
moveable top bars. He also reports on the practice of artificial
swarming, such methods being far in advance of any manipulations in
this country at that time. The inference of this is that the
frames/combs were sufficiently removable to permit individual
1683 An Englishman named John Houghton invented
what he thought was a moveable frame hive, but the bee space
dimensions were too great and the frames became fixed by the accretion
of brace comb.
1768 Thomas Wildman describes the use of wooden
boxes with individual bars for each comb. (Much like the Greek basket
system described earlier.)
1789 Francois Huber, (the Swiss blind man),
Introduced hives made from a series of wooden frames connected
together with strips of leather to form a system rather like the
leaves of a book. This was a research tool rather than a beekeeping
1819 Robert Kerr of Stewarton Ayrshire designed
an octagonal shaped hive
with top bars that varied in length according to their position
within the box.
1830 approx. (some say 1806 approx.)A Russian
(Ukrainian?) named Peter Prokopovitsch used frames with channels in the
side of the woodwork, these were packed side by side in boxes that
were stacked one on top of the other. The bees traveling from frame
to frame and box to box via the channels. The channels were similar to
the cut outs in the sides of modern wooden sections.
1850 Glass bell jars were common on both skeps
and wooden 'box' hives. Sometimes bell jars were placed on Stewarton
brood chambers giving a very fancy, but typically Victorian appearance.
1851 Rev. L.L. Langstroth is always credited with
the invention of the top opening hanging frame hive. It is much more
likely that he was merely the first to recognise 'Bee Space' and by
observing the principles of bee space, in the design of his hive, he
rendered the frames truly 'removable' for the first time. 1851 was
the publishing date and a patent was issued in 1852. It is thought
that experiments had been conducted for at least ten years prior to
that date. Certainly he showed a version in 1845. Ironically he was
pursuing methods of reducing comb built on the inside walls of box
hives in an effort to reduce or eliminate wax moth damage rather than
looking for methods of rendering frames easier to move.
1852 Baron Von Berlepsch... After studying
Langstroth's patent he developed the back opening hive whose
descendants are common in middle Europe to the present day. An
attempt at popularising this method, in this country, is the Euro Hive.
Dzierzon is also credited with this work, but it would not surprise me
if they both came to the same conclusions independently.
1857 Johannes Mehring invented wax foundation in
Austria. The process was improved by E.B. Weed of USA and remains
much the same today. Also at this date Wooden Sections were introduced
by J.S. Harbison in California. They became, (for 80 or 90 years),
immensely popular all over the world.
1860 Thomas Woodbury of Exeter incorporated
Langstroth's ideas into his hives, which became the forerunner of most
of the subsequent hive designs in this country. The frames were 13" x
7 1/4", this size was one of the proposals at the later
standardisation discussions.lug size unknown.
1865 ish The queen excluder was invented by
Abbe Collin. (It is unknown, at least by
me!, whether it was a wire type or a perforated sheet type.)
1865 The first use of a centrifugal extractor in
1866 (could have been 1865.)
The 'Cowan Hive' designed by T.W. Cowan. It was
described in the pages of "The English
Mechanic" magazine (no specialised bee magazines had been
published by then). It was made from 1" and
1 1/4" timber (I have no drawings of this... Can anyone help?)
1867 The Bingham Hive in America... No hive body
at all, each frame had solid rectangular ends that were 3/4 thick.
The frames were placed in groups of seven with plain boards front and
rear. The whole assembly was pulled together with wire loops thus
forming a self contained brood box with integral frames.
1874 Charles Nash Abbott... Founder of the
"British Bee Journal", in 1873 and via a campaign conducted through
it's pages...Founded the BBKA in 1884. At the time of starting the BBJ
he gave up his employment and started a beekeeping equipment business
that was combined with a school of apiculture. He is also famous for
his type of frame top bar that was self spacing by being broader at
the end than in the central portion. This is often depicted in books
as being of an 'arrowhead' shape, but this style was only introduced
later to save timber (Does anyone know when?) The original shape had
the self spacing part of the lug all on one side of the main bar with
the spacer at the opposite end on the other side of the bar.
1875 ish, The Kent beekeepers were among the best
organised, with a large membership of flourishing and energetic
beekeepers. Several of their members had been using a frame of
14" x 8 1/2" for some time, but various different types
of top bar gave rise to differing lug sizes and types.
1875 Moses Quinby was the first to design a
workable smoker. This relatively late date indicates roughly when
modern hive manipulation and multiple box techniques came into use.
1876 ish The Sussex Shallow... This was a
5 1/2" frame originally with a 16" top bar, all parts
of the frame were made from timber that was 1 1/4" wide and
1/4" thick. No distinction was made between brood or super
purposes. A hive usually consisted of three boxes full of this type of
frame plus a rack (or two) of sections. As the third box was almost
always honey only, it was common to cut comb from these frames in a
similar fashion to present day cut comb production.
(Could have been earlier)
The 'metal end' frame spacer was made of lead alloy
and was fundamental in the design of the BBKA standard frame. It
caused the need for the long lugs which are a unique feature of the
British frame. Some Polish frames had large lugs, but they were needed
because the frames were 1 metre deep and very heavy!
1879 During C.N. Abbott's editorship, there were
reports(in an issue of the British Bee Journal)
about self spacing frames that pre-date Hoffman style frame spacing
in all but the bevelled edges. This un bevelled style is still used in
New Zealand and parts of Australia to the present day.
1882 The British Standard Frame. After a marathon
discussion this was finally agreed to be a 14" x 8 1/2"
frame with a 17" top bar ( giving rise to the now familiar (in
UK!) 1 1/2" lugs). The top bar was only 3/8" thick. The
side and single bottom bar were 1/4" thick. All parts were
specified at 7/8" width. No mention was made at the time to this
being a Brood frame. There was no call for a 'Super' frame as such...
as most honey, at that time, was gathered in sections. One of the
reasons for the selection of this frame was the fact that it occupied
a similar space to six 4 1/4" square sections. I was
initially baffled by why this was considered such a useful feature,
but I have since found a design for a hanging section frame that was
used to put six fresh sections in the brood nest to get the comb
drawing started earlier than would be the case if they were merely
placed above the brood nest in the normal crate.
1882 ish, Many beekeepers took the new 'Standard
Frame' and tried all sorts of variations. Mainly alternative
thicknesses and widths of the different parts. The most common
alteration being to reduce the bottom bar to 5/8" width. Another
common, but later, change was to make the side bars 3/8" thick.
(The twin bottom bars that we know today did not come in until much
later when pre-wired foundation became popular.
1884 ish During the negotiations for the standard
frame, Samuel Simmins was a vociferous proponent of a frame
16" x 10" with a 17 1/2" top bar. When he was
unsuccessful he decided to 'go it alone', but he reduced the top bar to
17 3/16" and called it the National Major Frame. This and
the American style box that he designed to suit it, later became the
British Standard Commercial Hive.
1885 ish When the Kent frame was adopted, many Sussex
Beekeepers were outraged. Partly to pacify them, and their protagonist
(William Broughton Carr, who was trying to popularise the idea of
extracted honey), and partly to align with the Langstroth Standard,
which by this time had a deep and a shallow type of frame. The Sussex
frame was revamped with 7/8" wide x 3/8" thick timber and a
17" top bar. This was designated the BBKA Standard Shallow Frame.
The Kent frame being renamed the BBKA Standard Deep Frame.
1887 William Broughton Carr invented the tinplate
version of the metal end (the one we are familiar with today).
1889 The Hoffman Frame Spacing method was
invented. The first reported use was in New York USA during 1890.
1889 (ish) The 16" x
6" frame was added to provide for shallow combs to suite the
16" x 10" 'National Major'. This was intended for cut comb
production and the then 'New Fangled' extracted honey. The box that
this frame fits became known as the... B.S. Commercial Super.
1890 William Broughton Carr published details of
the WBC hive (Mr Carr was the editor of the
"Bee Journal and Record"). The WBC was extremely
popular, not because it was a particularly good design, but because it
could be made from readily available fruit boxes. Bees also did quite
well in it as the outer lifts and roof kept most of the rain off the
relatively flimsy interior boxes. A further reason for the bees
wellbeing was that most of the joints were less than sound and allowed
a considerable total airflow through the whole system, such draught
eliminated any stagnant moist air and consequently any resulting
condensation was relatively minor.
It was also popular because there was a space of about 3" (much
larger than present day WBCs) between the inner and outer boxes that
could be packed with straw in winter (a common practice at the time).
1891 Porter Bee Escape invented in USA.
1899 James Lee invented the taper sided lifts
that we see as a common feature of modern WBC hives.
1900 ish The 1 1/16" (28 mm) wide top
bar was tried after reports from Australia that the bees built less
brace comb between adjacent bars of this width. It was much more
widely adopted in Eire than in the U.K. This width was popular with
the Ministry of Agriculture and was adopted later in the first British
Standard, but pressure from the equipment trade forced the adoption of
7/8" as an alternative width in all subsequent editions of the
standard. These days it is recommended that 28 mm wide top bars be
used in the brood frames in order to reduce problems with beekeeper's
1906 (ish) The 14" x
12" frame and brood box were designed following experiments by
A.N. Draper in the A.I. Root apiaries during 1905.
1911 Half inch thick frame lugs were still in
common use at this relatively modern time.
Taylor's catalogue of this date lists WBC tinplate ends to
suit this thickness as well as the then more common 3/8" variety.
1920 The 'Simplicity Hive' became the most
popular alternative to the WBC. The forerunner of this type of hive
was the 'Economic Hive' which was championed by Samuel Simmins and was
subsequently adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture as... The National
Brood Box & Super. It was usually made of 7/8" timber and was
18 1/2" square. It could be made up with either TOP or BOTTOM bee
space to suit the requirements of the purchaser.
1928 Mr W. Smith of
Innerleithen, Peebles, Scotland reduced the top bar to 15 1/2"
and designed an American style, Top Bee Space, hive that is used by
about 3% of British Beekeepers. It is more common in Scotland than in
any other part of the UK, (it was originally designed for heather
1930 ish The Zander Hive (German National) was
developed by Enoch Zander to facilitate pollination and movement of
bees in an area where most beekeeping was in purpose built bee houses.
Its frame at 420 mm x 220 mm is a little larger than our
National, but is fairly similar. (Top bee space!)
1936 (Or may have been earlier.)
The 3/4" (11/16") thick top bar... This had
been tried since the 1880s, but only came into common use with the
advent of pre-wired foundation (which was marketed by Dadant). It
proved popular because of its greater strength and it helped to
discourage the queen from migrating into the supers.
1946 The first issue of British Standard 1300.
This formalised the dimensions of the WBC hive and introduced the
'Improved National Hive' which somehow became translated into the
'Modified National Hive' that we know today. It was proposed in 1944,
(due to shortages of certain timber sizes), by Burtt & sons in
conjunction with other hive manufacturers. Adoption of Hoffman spacing
was proposed, but largely ignored for all except the short lugged
1960 The last issue of BS 1300
Most of this material was originally used for a lecture that I used to
give in the early 1990's.
Written... Early 1990s, Revised... 13/14 Aug & 28 Sept 2002