Necessity is said to be the mother of invention, and we need not look far to find proof of the assertion. No sooner did the beekeeper learn to provide the bees with a separate compartment for storing the surplus honey than he saw the need of some means of getting the bees out of the super when he was ready to remove it. Like other items of present day equipment, the bee escape is the result of numerous efforts to find a solution of that problem. As was the case with the excluder, the first development of the escape appears to have been the work of European beemen. The early issues of the British Bee Journal in the eighteen-seventies describe numerous traps which were very crude but which were at least a start toward present day perfection.
The bee escape finally perfected by E. C. Porter has held its popularity until the present day.
The Ashton bee trap is described as permitting the bees to leave the hive, or super, without the ability to return, but details of its construction are not available to this author. Cheshire's pin trap, with various modifications, received much attention also. Cheshire's plan was to bore holes about the right size to permit the bees to pass. Across each hole on the outside was suspended a common pin which the bees were able to push aside and which fell back to its former position after the bee had passed. Considerable ingenuity was used in devising the proper position to insure that the pin would fall across the hole and thus prevent the return of the bees.
Walter S. Pouder, of Groes-beck, Ohio, in 1884 described an adaptation of the pin trap which he had developed in this country. He used a small wooden bar about the size of a lead pencil and through it pushed a row of pins, about seven to an inch. This was swung on a pivot so that the points of the pins rested on a slant on the entrance board. The bees were able to push under the pins and raise them far enough to permit their escape, but as the pins dropped again, they could not return. Others prepared a tent of mosquito netting under which the supers were placed as taken from the hives. The bees gradually left the supers through a small hole in the top and clustered in the tent. When the supers were cleared they were removed from the tent and the bees released.
Dr. C. C. Miller adapted the tent to a smaller space by making a small tent to go over a pile of supers. This was made the same size as the super and was placed at the top of the pile. It was made of mosquito netting supported by two V-shaped wires with loops at the apex to hold the netting in the form of a pyramid. A small opening at the top permitted the escape of the bees.
J. S. Reece, Winchester, Kentucky, was probably the first to devise an escape to be used in connection with the hive. He made two cones which were attached to a thin board the size of the hive top. These were inverted over an empty super and placed below the filled super. The bees moved down freely, but only a few succeeded in finding their way back the way they had gone.
In 1890, Charles H. Dibbern, of Milan, Illinois, conceived the idea of using smaller cones turned on the side, thus getting rid of the long projections of the Reece escape. This idea was further refined by John H. Larrabee with several small cones, one in front of another and placed between two boards. The bees entered the first from above and after passing through the others, passed out below. This was widely sold as the LaReece escape, thus combining the names of Larrabee and Reece.
It remained for E. C. Porter, of Lewistown, Illinois, to introduce a really satisfactory escape, which it appears was designed by his father. This was first offered in 1891 and has continued to hold its popularity until the present day. Many thousands of them have been sold. In the center of the board is placed a small metal cavity with two thin flat springs nearly touching each other at the opening. The bee, in passing, readily pushes them apart far enough to leave the super but when they regain their former position, it is unable to return.
There have been improvements of the Porter escape, such as the Lightning, in 1892, and the Lewis modification with two openings in opposite directions, but no substantial change in the fundamental invention.