Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation

Tammy Horn

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0813191637

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


" Honey bees―and the qualities associated with them―have quietly influenced American values for four centuries. During every major period in the country's history, bees and beekeepers have represented order and stability in a country without a national religion, political party, or language. Bees in America is an enlightening cultural history of bees and beekeeping in the United States. Tammy Horn, herself a beekeeper, offers a varied social and technological history from the colonial period, when the British first introduced bees to the New World, to the present, when bees are being used by the American military to detect bombs. Early European colonists introduced bees to the New World as part of an agrarian philosophy borrowed from the Greeks and Romans. Their legacy was intended to provide sustenance and a livelihood for immigrants in search of new opportunities, and the honey bee became a sign of colonization, alerting Native Americans to settlers' westward advance. Colonists imagined their own endeavors in terms of bees' hallmark traits of industry and thrift and the image of the busy and growing hive soon shaped American ideals about work, family, community, and leisure. The image of the hive continued to be popular in the eighteenth century, symbolizing a society working together for the common good and reflecting Enlightenment principles of order and balance. Less than a half-century later, Mormons settling Utah (where the bee is the state symbol) adopted the hive as a metaphor for their protected and close-knit culture that revolved around industry, harmony, frugality, and cooperation. In the Great Depression, beehives provided food and bartering goods for many farm families, and during World War II, the War Food Administration urged beekeepers to conserve every ounce of beeswax their bees provided, as more than a million pounds a year were being used in the manufacture of war products ranging from waterproofing products to tape. The bee remains a bellwether in modern America. Like so many other insects and animals, the bee population was decimated by the growing use of chemical pesticides in the 1970s. Nevertheless, beekeeping has experienced a revival as natural products containing honey and beeswax have increased the visibility and desirability of the honey bee. Still a powerful representation of success, the industrious honey bee continues to serve both as a source of income and a metaphor for globalization as America emerges as a leader in the Information Age.

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Drone: This male bee mates with the queen. The drones only last the summer season. Virgil called them “a pack of shirkers.” European foulbrood (EHB): This bacterial disease is characterized by dead unsealed brood, a sour odor, and watery consistency of dead brood. Extractor: Major Francesco von Hruschka, who served in the Imperial Austrian army, invented this machine, which uses centrifugal force to pull the honey from the comb in a quick, easy fashion. Honey: Bees make honey by gathering

and more industrialized. In Alabama, for instance, the Somerville Falcon reported a rather “curious circumstance.” It was rather warm and sunshiny and a young lady sat in the parlor playing the piano, with all the windows thrown open, when a swarm of bees, attracted by the music, entered a window and settled on the piano.84 In New York, a state commonly associated with the city, a longer article, titled “Hiving Honey Bees: The Remarkable Conduct of Some Farmers’ Boys and Girls Explained,”

Kupperman.15 New England offered poor people a chance to escape land contracts, the vagaries of bad weather leading to bad harvests, and increasing taxes on very little yield. But the popular analogy between the New World and the hive simplified the complexities of poverty. And the comparisons of males to drones in travel literature did nothing to solve outdated land or social policies. The English desperately wanted social and political order, but changes were happening too rapidly on too many

newly formed urban communities still had links to the South, the urban blacks financed a healthy cultural climate in which musicians developed a rural-based blues genre. Radios offered blocks of time to black musicians, and many musicians were able to profit by this promotion. In their songs, black musicians challenged the Victorian pretenses of modesty and chastity that had been lingering since the Anthony Comstock laws of the 1880s.30 The honey bee served as a metaphor to make bold pleas for

decades. But toward the end of the decade, beekeepers didn’t have political support. When former Wisconsin governor Lee Dreyfus was approached by a well-meaning honey producer, who tried to give him a jar of honey, Dreyfus refused, claiming that his wife Joyce had refused to eat “bee poop” since childhood.68 Dreyfus survived the furor, but the Wisconsin beekeepers were not happy. Even Georgia-born president Jimmy Carter voted against tariffs that would protect beekeepers from honey imports in

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