Birth of American Bee Culture : A Look at Advertisements in A.J. Cook’s The Bee Keepers’ Guide
This is the third post in a weekly miniseries about advertisements in 19th century books. You can read the first post in the series here, and the second here.
Beekeeping in America began in the 1600s, with the importation of honey bees from England. However, beekeeping did not occur on a large scale in the United States until 1852, with the invention of the movable comb hive by Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth. This invention created a booming honey industry, and the craze sparked the publishing of extensive guides on beekeeping practices. One of the most well-known books was A.J. Cook’s The Bee Keepers’ Guide; Or a Manual of the Apiary. The Eleventh edition of this work, a copy of which can be found in the University of St Andrews’ Beveridge Collection, includes a variety of advertisements which provide insight into American bee and farming culture of the late 19th century.
At the time of the guide’s publication in 1884, the honey industry was a relatively new but fast growing market. To capitalize on this opportunity, many companies attested that they could provide all of the necessary supplies for setting up a successful apiary. This advert depicts the kegs for storing the extracted product as well as pails that could be used to sell honey at local markets. The text emphasizes the sale of honey plant seeds, which were essential to establish a good flower population near the apiary. In addition to providing sustenance for the bees, a variety of food sources would cause the insects to produce different coloured and flavoured honey.
Beside a highly detailed illustration of honey jars, the advert includes promotion of a honey extractor. This machine, invented by Major Francesco De Hruschka in 1865, used centrifugal force to dislodge honey from the combs and collected it into a vat. The extractor, combined with Langstroth’s movable comb hive, greatly improved the efficiency of honey harvesting.
Smokers, used to calm honey bees so the beekeeper could work in the hive, were another essential piece of equipment. Due to the rapid progression and wide variety of beekeeping supplies available, companies were highly competitive. Common advertising techniques to draw in customers included the use of testimonials from farmers across the United States, promises of free trials, and the use of colloquial language.
As innovations in beekeeping were frequent during the late nineteenth century, beekeepers needed up-to-date sources of information on beekeeping practices. The American Bee Journal emphasizes both its flexible subscription options and its use as an advertising platform. This periodical is still in circulation today.
While many American beekeepers were focused on honey production, others saw a market in breeding high quality insects. This advert mentions many species available for sale. The Italian bee although the most common species used, was more suited for the warm Mediterranean climate than the harsh American winters. American bee breeders had an important niche in the booming honey market, as they sold hybrid insect populations that were bred to withstand cold temperatures.
Although many of the advertisements in The Bee Keepers’ Guide focus on bee culture, others provide an insight into American farm life. While this advert emphasizes the necessity of Foot-Power machinery for crafting hives, it also hints at the multitude of other industries which use the device. Many individuals did not rely solely on honey as a means of income; often bee keeping was an additional source of income.
A final advertisement hints at the political situation in America at the time. The Eleventh edition of The Bee Keepers’ Guide was printed in Lansing, Michigan, located at the heart of farming and Republican territory (although this was the party of Abraham Lincoln, quite different from the GOP that we know today). 1884 was an election year. Republicans had held the presidency since 1856—six presidential elections—and Speaker of the House James G. Blaine was slated to win; as the advert reads “The course of politics has favoured The Tribune this year”. However, it is clear that this advertisement was printed before November. Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, would win narrowly win the election; New York State decided the race, giving Cleveland victory by a mere 1,074 votes. Cleveland’ success would break the longest losing streak for any major party in American political history. His time in office influenced the development of the American honey industry, as he created the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1889. Thus, the advertisements in A.J. Cook’s The Bee Keepers’ Guide; Or a Manual of the Apiary, provide a fascinating look into the early days of the American honey industry, aspects of which endure to the present day.
Lighting the Past Cataloguer
Nikki is studying for her MLitt in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture, and is a cataloguer with the Lighting the Past team. As an urban farmer who has worked in Atlanta, Georgia, she appreciates the pollinating capabilities of bees, even if as a vegan she does not eat honey.
2 thoughts on "Birth of American Bee Culture : A Look at Advertisements in A.J. Cook’s The Bee Keepers’ Guide"
This was extremely interesting. I learned a lot. It is unexpected to see how beekeeping and American politics are linked. I was surprised to learn that a vegetarian does not eat honey although honey comes from plants.
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