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The History Of Honey Extractors – 1864 to 2024

A vintage honey extractor with lawn in the background

Honey extraction wasn’t always the efficient process we know today. The invention of the honey extractor was a game-changing innovation, allowing honey removal without destroying the honeycomb.

This guide unravels the history of honey extractors, exploring their invention and evolution over time.

Who invented the honey extractor?

Franz Hruschka invented the honey extractor in 1864. He was an Austrian beekeeper who also served in the military as an Officer.

The original prototype was a tin box with a wire attached to the top. The beekeeper manually swung this device, allowing the honey to run into a funnel at the bottom of the device.

This method was cumbersome and time-consuming for the user, but it successfully proved the concept of centrifugal force.

The next iteration of the honey extractor was a similar design but took advantage of a tripod, making operation easier. The device was attached to an arm at the top of the tripod.

The third extractor was a huge leap forward in design, looking much closer to the products sold today. It had a tangential frame arrangement, like some modern designs have.

Hruschka began manufacturing three different-sized models:

  • A large machine held eight frames and could process 400-600 pounds of honey daily.
  • A mid-sized model could produce 80-100 pounds each day.
  • A small version processed pieces of honeycomb instead of whole combs.

Recommended reading: How to use a honey extractor.

An illustration of Hrushka's honey extractor
Hruschka’s honey extractor.

Was the extractor popular at first?

While beekeepers were ecstatic at the brilliance of Hruschka’s invention, the general public was not so impressed. It allowed unscrupulous vendors to sell adulterated honey diluted with cheap substitute ingredients and sugar.

Until food laws were introduced to counter this deceptive practice, consumers considered comb honey a mark of purity.

Need a new extractor? Get our list of recommended honey extractors for newcomers to beekeeping.

What inspired Hruska to invent the honey extractor?

There are conflicting theories on how Hruschka came up with the idea for the honey extractor. Two popular versions are:

  1. Child play: Hruschka’s son placed some honeycomb in a basket and playfully swung it around himself. As honey was flung from the comb, the idea began to take shape in the inventor’s head.
  2. Sugar factory: Living near a sugar factory, Hruschka saw they were separating liquid molasses from sugar using centrifugal force. The inventor initially tried to separate crystals from liquid honey in the hope of selling the crystals as a sugar substitute. While this idea failed, it was the spark he needed to invent a contraption for flinging honey from its frame.

What benefits did the honey extractor offer?

The most significant impact of the honey extractor was its effect on the scale and efficiency of honey production. It let beekeepers harvest honey without destroying the hives or the honeycombs. This meant the bees could continue producing honey with minimal disruption, leading to increased yields.

Until the invention of extractors, beekeepers had to use hot processing methods to remove the honey. This technique removed the honey’s fragrance and healing properties, so the new approach to extraction was a significant step forward for the industry.

The extractor also improved honey quality. Since the honeycombs weren’t crushed, debris and wax were less likely to contaminate the liquid. This enhanced taste and appearance, increasing its market value.

How was honey extracted before the extractor?

Before the invention of the honey extractor, honey harvesting was labor-intensive and less efficient. Honey was traditionally harvested by destroying the entire hive or crushing the honeycomb to squeeze out the honey.

Honey comb with liquid honey seeping out on a wooden board
Whole comb was often crushed and strained before extractors arrived.

Evolution of design

After Major Francesco De Hruschka’s invention in 1865, the design of the honey extractor continued to evolve. Updates improved efficiency and ease of use and catered to the needs of both small-scale and large-scale apiaries.

Two primary types of honey extractors developed: tangential and radial.

  • Tangential extractors arrange frames with the comb’s surface facing the outer wall of the barrel. This machine requires flipping the frames to extract honey from both sides.
  • Radial extractors, a later development, allowed honey extraction from both sides simultaneously.

The introduction of electrically powered extractors was a major leap forward. These automated systems made extracting honey quicker and with less physical effort required. Large-scale commercial beekeeping operations became more feasible.

Early extractors were made from tin or galvanized iron. Modern extractors are more commonly constructed from food-grade stainless steel for hygiene, durability, and ease of cleaning. Some smaller extractors designed for hobbyists are made from high-quality, durable plastic.

Extractor design also adapted to accommodate different types of frames and combs. For example, some extractors are designed to handle different-sized frames.

Recent innovations include programmable settings, automatic stop when honey extraction is complete, and built-in honey filters.

A vintage honey extractor on a plain background
Vintage honey extractor.

Fast facts about the history of honey extractors

  • After Hruschka presented his design, people suggested a radial frame design. However, making a practical version of this was too difficult.
  • H.O. Peabody was the first to manufacture and sell honey extractors in the United States. 
  • Dozens of extractor producers popped up in the U.S. after its invention.
  • In the 1870s, the Cowan extractor was invented by T.W. Cowan. It was the first design to incorporate a reversible basket, allowing the operator to flip the frame without removing it from the machine.
  • Samuel Wagner and L.L. Langstroth added a gear-driven shaft, an improvement still used in modern machines.
  • A.I. Root marketed his company’s “Novice” extractor, which improved the can and driving machinery.
  • Automatic reversing extractors had used hinges to alternate the frames, but they were phased out over time.
A black and white illustration of T.W. Cowan's honey extractor
T.W. Cowan’s honey extractor.

The future of honey extractors

Technology will continue to improve extractors, making the job easier and more efficient for beekeepers. Some features manufacturers are working to add or improve on their machines include:

Machine learning algorithms: Analyze data and find the most efficient ways to extract honey, minimizing waste.

Sensor integration: Provides real-time data about the quality, viscosity, and other honey properties.

Automated cleaning systems: Automatic cleaning systems to reduce downtime and improve hygiene.

Remote technology: Enables remote monitoring and control, allowing beekeepers to manage their operations anywhere.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our handy tips for using a honey extractor.

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