The origin of the queen excluder is somewhat obscure. It seems to have been a gradual development and not an invention which can be credited principally to one individual. Apparently, it came to America from Europe, and hence our beekeepers have not contributed greatly to its development.
An editorial in the British Bee Journal, April 1, 1878, states that at the earliest stage it was found necessary in the case of skeps whose crowns were not level to interpose some medium on which to rest the surplus chamber or super. This base being a thin board was called an adapting board. Originally these adapting boards were made with round holes in the centers to match the holes left in the crowns of the skeps, and when it was found desirable to exclude the drones and the queen a grating was devised. These narrow slots in the wood permitted the worker bees to pass, but turned back the queen and the drones, and kept the surplus compartment free from brood.
Improvements followed each other in succession until the adapting board became an excluder. It is uncertain who was the first to use perforated metal sheets to replace or cover the wood. Some credit this invention to Abbe Collin, of Paris, who published a "Guide" in 1865. (In an article in the French LaCulture, Nov. 11, 1877, Charles Dadant credits Collin with the invention of the perforated metal. ) At any rate, according to the above mentioned editorial, the perforations used by Collin were oblong, while those in use in England at that day were circular. In use, the round holes served to scrape off the balls of pollen as the workers crawled through the small openings. The size of the English opening is recorded as three-sixteenths inch in diameter, and it was found that the queens sometimes passed through to make themselves at home in the chamber from which it was intended to exclude them. The elongated opening was found more practical, since the worker could pass through a space of this shape narrow enough to prevent the queen's escape. This was not true when a round hole was used.
The perforations by Collin were oblong. An opening of 165/1000 of an inch in width has finally been accepted as correct.
C. N. Abbot, at that time editor of the British Journal, prepared an excluder with strips of glass in place of the zinc, but apparently it came to naught since we hear no more of it.
Sheet of perforated zinc the size of the hive was commonly used by comb honey producers to prevent the queen from entering the super.
In the same publication for June 1, 1875, appears an article by O. Poole in which he mentions having used adapting boards with perforated zinc with great success for some years past. He mentions the fact that it is impossible for worker bees to get through with a load of pollen. This he regards as a good feature, evidently thinking that there is no need for pollen in the surplus chamber. In August, 1877, a correspondent, G. F. Pearson, records that with oblong openings one-sixth by one-half inch, there is no trouble from the bees losing their pollen. This would be a serious objection where the zinc was used at the entrance to prevent the escape of the queen.
In early editions of ABC of Bee Culture, Root records that the first queen-excluding zinc used in this country was imported from England and that the perforations were nine-fiftieths of an inch in width. Since an occasional queen was able to pass through, the perforations were reduced to five thirty-seconds or eight-fiftieths of an inch in width. These, he records, were too narrow and a scant nine-fiftieths was found to be better.
Dr. G. L. Tinker used strips of perforated zinc supported by strips of wood.
Once acquainted with the new product, Yankee ingenuity applied it to many purposes. Sheets were made the full size of the top of the hive, and many beekeepers used such sheets between the hive body and the super at all times.
Others objected that using them between the hive body and super interfered with the movements of the bees and used them only during the height of the harvest.
Dozens of queen and drone traps, entrance guards, swarm catchers and similar implements were made, each making use of the zinc which would permit the worker to pass while stopping the queen or drone. For years supply catalogs listed such equipment, but it finally was realized that such tools were toys at best and unsuited to needs of commercial honey producers. They are now seldom used except for special emergency.
Cheshire's pin trap permitted the bees to escape but prevented their return.
Dr. G. L. Tinker, of New Philadelphia, Ohio, appears to have hit on the idea of using strips of zinc supported by strips of wood. The wood was designed to lie above the frames with the strip of zinc running over the space between the frames. This permitted the bees to pass freely, while making a stronger frame than when full sheets of metal were used. In his little book, Beekeeping for Profit. Dr. Tinker's New System, this excluder is pictured and indicated as his invention. Some publications of the time illustrate a similar excluder with credit to Heddon.
The queen and drone trap in common use was long known as the Alley trap and probably originated with Henry Alley, of Wenham, Massachusetts, although some changes were made by the manufacturers who kept it on the market.
Dr. C. C. Miller's tent escape was made of mosquito netting supported by V-shaped wires.
On October 1, 1907, the A. I. Root Company was granted a patent on a new type of excluder made of hard-drawn number fourteen galvanized wire, held in place by soft metal ties every two or three inches. This was a definite improvement since it presented a smooth round edge for the bees to pass and was free from the sharp burred edges of the cut metal so long in use.
The wire excluder was so much more popular than the old type implement that it gradually supplanted it, until now but few of the zinc excluders are sold. The wire excluder is now on the market in various models which do not differ greatly from each other in efficiency.
Of late, 165/1,000 of an inch has been generally adopted as the proper width of the spaces between the wires. The same width is used for zinc perforations.