Moses Quinby perhaps is entitled to recognition as the first commercial honey producer of distinction. He began beekeeping in 1828, when the bees were hived in a box or hollow log and smothered for their honey. Long before the invention of the bee space and movable frame hive, Quinby undertook to make honey production profitable. There was no such thing as a smoker, an extractor, or comb foundation. The modem beekeeper would be helpless under such conditions, as were most of Quinby's contemporaries.
Although Quinby made some contribution to the development of such implements as the smoker and extractor, as told elsewhere, his greatest achievement was that of becoming a successful honey producer with primitive equipment. When the discovery was made that the honey could be obtained without the destruction of the bees, the first great advance in beekeeping was made. True, the beginning was very crude and the amount of honey obtained was small, but it was so revolutionary as to mark the start of the present day methods.
When a cap was placed on top of the box hive to provide a separate chamber for the storage of surplus honey, the way was open for the appearance of the super. When, in 1856, Moses Quinby and a few of his neighbors, who followed his leadership, produced for market a crop of ten tons of box honey, something of a sensation was created. The newspapers commented extensively and much curiosity was aroused as a result. Quinby was deluged by correspondence because of this publicity, by men who wanted to know what system of management would bring such an amazing result.
To one reading Quinby's book in the light of the later developments, with his description of the removal of a board from the side of the hive and the cutting out of frames of honey, it is hard to believe that such crops could have been harvested by such methods. Following such instruction, he tells how to "strain" the honey. Here we must remember that he was making use of the equipment common to his time, and that his methods were in advance of his fellows.
Quinby became a very large scale beekeeper for that day, and it is recorded that he owned by himself and in partnership with others from 600 to 1, 200 colonies of bees during the height of his beekeeping career. It was during the Civil War that Quinby reaped a rich harvest. With the supply of sugar cut off from the South, sweets were scarce and high in price. During the last year of the war he harvested eleven tons, which brought a snug sum in that period of high prices.
Quinby appears to have been slow in recognizing the value of Langstroth's invention. He tried the new hive, but had difficulty in getting the bees to build straight combs in the frames. He declared that movable combs would not suit the average beekeeper, since he would not have the patience to take the trouble needed to get straight ones. Although we speak of him as a practical man, he continued to use his standing frame hive until his death. This certainly was a less practical hive than the one which replaced it in the favor of American beemen.
It is a significant fact that New York, where his influence was most in evidence, became the first region where honey production assumed commercial proportions. Several of Quinby's followers became well-known as large scale producers of honey.
Bom April 16, 1810, Quinby lived until May 27, 1875, when he suddenly passed away. During the later years of his life he was prominent in all that pertained to the industry, and in his influence we must recognize the beginning of commercial honey production. It was he who gave confidence that bees could be made to provide a livelihood and support a family in the comfort which they were entitled to expect.
John S. Harbison was a contemporary of Quimby and his influence in California was similar to that of Quinby in New York. The greater part of Harbison's story is told in the chapter relating to California and need not be repeated here. It was a difficult and expensive task to take bees from Pennsylvania to the new land of California, but once he had done it he proceeded to expand his apiaries as rapidly as possible. In partnership with R. G. Clark he established apiaries in San Diego County in 1869. The spot chosen was in the mountains about twenty miles east of San Diego, in what was then sheep ranching country. The nearby mountain has since been named "Harbison Mountain, " at the suggestion of visiting beekeepers who made the request at the time of a meeting held in San Diego in 1918.
In 1873 Harbison bought his partner's interest and in a few years probably owned more bees than any other man of that day. It is never safe to say that a man was the most extensive beekeeper, for always there is another elsewhere to contend for the honor. His big shipments of honey to eastern markets attracted even more attention than Quinby's shipments had done at an earlier date. His book, Beekeepers' Directory, provided information for the novice dealing with California conditions, and he paved the way for a successful career for many beginners following his leadership.
Harbison enjoyed doing big things in a big way, even though the expenses consumed most of the profits. He frequently exhibited California honey at eastern fairs and, in 1876, was awarded a medal for his exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial. In like manner he received the highest awards at St. Louis and New Orleans, and made his name familiar to the general public over a great expanse of territory.