The beehive smoker is an indispensable piece of equipment for many beekeepers. It helps to calm honey bees during honey collection and inspections.
Keep reading to discover the history of bee smokers and how they have evolved over the years.
When did bee smoking first begin?
Although bee smoker design patents began to show up in the 1800s, the practice of smoking out bees started long before. The exact year that smoking bees began is unknown, but there is evidence that it occurred centuries before modern beekeeping.
Native Americans burned puffball fungus as an anesthetic which pacified the colony. This allowed them to collect honey from wild honeybee hives without getting stung.
Regular campfires also worked well for calming bees or forcing them from their home. A smoking branch from a nearby fire was taken to the beehive before harvesting the honey. Some indigenous cultures still use this method today.
in the 1800s, American farmers who kept bees would use smoldering corn cobs to clear out bees. Source.
Who invented the hive smoker?
The first hive smoker with bellows was invented by Moses Quinby in 1873. Although credited with the invention, his name doesn’t appear in patent records. He gifted the idea to the beekeeping community rather than profiting from it.
Hive smoker manufacturers have made improvements since the 1800s, but the original design is similar to modern devices. It consisted of a tin chamber for burning materials, bellows, and a nozzle.
The first bee smoker had its limitations. A fire needed to constantly burn for smoke to be made available. Keeping the flames burning meant smoke billowed out continuously, even when unnecessary.
Tracy F. Bingham addressed this issue with modifications to the original Quinby tool. Rather than a solid connector pipe between the bellows and the firebox, the new design left a small gap between the two. This allowed air draft, keeping the fire from going out when pumping the bellows.
A patent was issued to Bingham in 1878, interestingly classified under “Device for Destroying Insects by Fumigation.” At this time, there was no classification for beekeeping equipment tools so this was the closest option.
Bingham was also granted a U.S. patent in 1903, addressing tar streaks running down the outside of the smoker. It was marketed as a “self-cleaning smoker.”
His patent application stated, “The objects of the invention are to secure an improved form of connection between the tapering nozzle and the cylindrical body of the smoker and between the nozzle and the cap or hood which will keep the smoker clean and prevent the tar and soot from passing to the outside.”
The new design wasn’t just about appearance. It stopped creosote and ash from blowing onto white honeycomb, making a mess that was challenging to clean up.
Recent modifications to the bee smoker
Daniel Stearns applied for a patent in 2009 for an electric bee smoker. It produced smoke on demand for use in controlling bees and included housing, a power source, a heating element, a fan, and switches.
In the application made by Stearns, he claims, “a need exists for a bee smoker that reliably, easily, and safely produces smoke on demand without the need for continually maintaining a fire in the housing.”
His application was granted in 2013. View patent.
Xavier Danet, Christophe Cordella, and Florent Allais filed a patent application in 2017 for an electronic bee smoker. This device uses an interchangeable cartridge containing a non-glycol active composition that can be volatilized. It vaporizes hives with 15% triethyl citrate and addresses the potential stress bees may face from smoke. Source document.
They state, “It seems that the smoke has the effect of stressing the bees and pushing them to take refuge inside the hive where they gorge on honey.” This new bee smoker provides options for beekeepers seeking alternatives to traditional smokers.
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