Charles Dadant was a French American beekeeper, author, and biologist. He was a highly-regarded contributor to American Bee Journal and helped introduce modern beekeeping methods to America and Europe.
Note: This article is a part of a series we’re written about beekeeping icons that transformed the industry.
|Born||20 May, 1817|
|Place of Birth||Vaux-sous-Aubigny, Le Montsaugeonnais, France|
|Died||26 July, 1902|
|Occupation||Beekeeper, businessman, biologist, writer|
|Notable Beekeeping Achievements||Writer at American Bee Journal, introduced modern beekeeping methods to Europe, invented Dadant hive.|
Charles Dadant was born in 1817 in Vaux-Sous-Aubigny, France. He grew up in the Burgundy region and was part of a large family with six siblings.
From age 12, Dadant began working with bees in his hometown. He would help the village priest with everyday beekeeping tasks like scraping honey and combing from skeps. During this time, moveable frame hives hadn’t yet been invented.
Mid-life emigration to America
By the time Dadant had reached his mid-forties, he was disillusioned with the opportunities France had to offer. An old friend, Mr. Marlot, was living in Basco, IL, and invited Charles to join him in growing champagne grapes.
The idea of a new start for his family was too much to resist, so in 1863, at 46, he emigrated to Hamilton, Illinois.
Grapes weren’t an ideal match for the Illinois climate, and the Civil War made farming even more difficult. The venture failed, leaving Dadant bankrupt in a foreign country. To make matters more challenging, he didn’t speak English.
Although Dadant was penniless, he was an ideas man and refused to give up on his dream of success. He decided to focus his attention on starting a beekeeping business.
Charles Dadant started out with a few hives but quickly grew the operation into a thriving apiary with 70 colonies. This rapid growth made him the biggest American producer of extracted honey.
By 1870, Dadant decided that the common German bee (black bee) lacked the right characteristics for beekeeping. After visiting Italy, he started to import Italian queen bees to test in his hives. Charles was the first to ship Italian bees into the country at scale.
Dadant also spent exhaustive hours experimenting with different hive dimensions. His research provided great insight into the ideal size for bee boxes. He invented the Dadant hive which is still commonly used today.
Did you know?
- Dadant gained inspiration from the work of Moses Quinby (Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained) and Lorenzo Langstroth (A Practical Treatise on the Hive and the Honey-Bee).
- Charles developed the Dadant hive in 1874, with a deeper brood box and shallower supers. It was compatible with the Langstroth hive and is still popular today.
- He developed a larger movable frame which measured 12”x13”.
- The Dadant hive gained immense popularity in Europe once it was used by Buckfast bee breeder Brother Adam (Karl Kehrle) in England.
Dadant’s contributions to beekeeping
Charles Dadant made a huge contribution to developing our knowledge of beekeeping. Some of his noteworthy achievements include:
Dadant was a prolific writer, which was an impressive effort, considering his native language was French. He learned English by regularly reading the New York Tribune and referring to a French-to-English dictionary.
By 1969, Dadant was contributing regularly to American Bee Journal. Readers enjoyed his contributions, and in 1872, Charles was offered editorship at the journal. He turned down the opportunity due to language difficulties.
Dadant’s son, Camille, eventually acquired the American Bee Journal in 1912. It was moved to Hamilton, IL, where it is still located today at the Dadant & Sons head office.
As Dadant spent more time in America, his English became highly proficient. In 1885, L.L. Langstroth asked him to work on a revised edition of The Hive and the Honey Bee.
By 1899, there were four editions, including a French version that Charles had translated.
Dadant was an innovative beekeeper who enjoyed tinkering with hives and equipment. Some of his contributions included:
- Made innovative adaptations to the Langstroth hive, which had only recently been introduced to the beekeeping community. He increased the size of the brood cavity, believing honey bees needed adequate space to grow their colony. This altered hive design is still commonly used, allowing for bigger colonies.
- Imported Italian queen bees and demonstrated how they were easier to work with than European bees. His advice was well received, and he contributed to Italian bees becoming the breed of choice in the United States.
- Invented a new and improved wax foundation for frames.
Charles and his son Camille-Pierre started working together on a new project in 1878. They set up a manufacturing facility to produce comb foundations.
Initially, the comb was used in their own hives, but it proved so successful that they began selling it to apiarists nationwide.
Over time, new product lines were added to their range. The company now has a vast range of beekeeping products, including frames, hives, smokers, and protective equipment.
Charles Dadant died in 1902 at the age of 85. His passion for beekeeping has passed down through the generations. They remain the largest beekeeping supplies producer in the United States and have seventh generation Dadants on their staff.