Who Was Jan Dzierżon? How Did He Influence Beekeeping?

Jan Dzierżon Portrait Illustration

Dr. Jan Dzierzon was a Polish priest who dedicated much of his life to the study of bees. Among many achievements, he was a prolific writer and discovered the parthenogenesis of bees.

Dzierżon also invented a movable-frame beehive that built on the work of Prokopovych. He is often referred to as the father of modern apiculture.

Jan Dzierżon was also known as John and Johann.

Note: This article is part of our series on Game-Changing Beekeepers In History.

Fast facts

NameJan Dzierżon
Born16 Jan, 1811
Place of BirthŁowkowice, Poland
Died26 Oct, 1906
OccupationPriest, apiarist, writer
Notable Beekeeping ContributionsDiscovered parthenogenesis of bees, designed an improved movable-frame hive.

Early life and education

Jan Dzierzon was born in 1811 in the Polish town of Łowkowice (Upper Silesia). He grew up on a farm with his parents and attended Polish elementary school.

At the age of ten, Jan moved to Breslau to pursue his studies. His initial theological schooling exposed him to German scientific and literary writings, which sparked a lifelong interest in science.

Jan graduated from the Breslau University Faculty of Catholic Theology in 1833. The following year he became the chaplain in Schalkowitz before being ordained Roman Catholic priest in 1835.

Dzierzon became a Roman Catholic priest and was able to pursue his interest in honey bees at the same time. He was eventually retired from the priesthood for questioning papal infallibility before being excommunicated in 1873.

Quotes from Dzierzon

“Truth, truth over everything. Lies and mistakes will pass by, but truth will remain.”

Jan Dzierzon

In every direction, one has a broad and pleasant view, and I am pretty happy here, despite the isolation, as I am always close to my beloved bees – which, if one’s soul be receptive to the works of the Almighty and the wonders of nature, can transform even a desert into a paradise.

Jan Dzierzon, after his excommunication from the church.

How did Jan Dzierzon contribute to beekeeping?

Dzierzon wrote extensively on the topic of beekeeping and honey bee anatomy. His innovations, experiments, and discoveries were highly respected within the beekeeping and scientific community.

Some of his most important contributions include:

  • Identified parthenogenesis in bees and its connection with worker, queen, and drone bees.
  • Invented a side-opening Dzierzon beehive with mobile top bars allowing observation of the colony and frame removal without damaging comb. His designs observed bee space, which were the building blocks for hives by August Adolph von Berlepsch and L.L. Langstroth, whose hive is popular today.
  • Discovered that royal jelly is secreted from the bee’s pharyngeal glands, used to feed larvae for several days after hatching.
  • Observed that young bees gorge themselves on pollen to help them survive the cold winter months.
  • Experimented with crossing Italian and national bee breeds.
  • Discovered that honey bees will collect and use pollen substitutes like flour or spores.
  • Made the connection between wax secretion and intensive honey feeding before this energy-intensive activity.
  • Discovered that drones result from unfertilized eggs and that the diet of developing bees influenced their role in the colony.
  • Wrote Dzierzon’s Rational Beekeeping, or The Theory and Practice of Dr. Dzierzon of Carlsmarkt (translated) 1882. Get a free download of the book here.

Worth a read:

  1. Who was Franz Hruschka?
  2. Who was Charles C. Miller?
  3. Who was Kark Kehrle?

Rewards and recognition

Jan Dzierzon received many awards and honorary memberships throughout his life.

However, some of his work was controversial and initially dismissed by part of the scientific community.

His papers discussing the connection between larvae diet and the type of bee that results weren’t accepted until he died in 1906.

Some noteworthy highlights of Dzierzon’s career include.

  1. Awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Munich.
  2. Became an honorary member of the German Academy of Sciences in Leopoldina.
  3. Honorary member of the Schlesische Gesellschaft für vaterländische Kultur.
  4. Presented to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
  5. Special honors included the Bavarian Merit Order of St. Michael, the Russian Order of St. Anna, the Austrian Order of Franz Joseph, the Hessian Ludwigsorden, the Prussian Order of the Crown, 4th Class, and the Swedish Order of Vasa.

Did you know? Famous beekeeper Franz Hruscka widely demonstrated the Dzierzon hive. This exposure led to Langstroth patenting a hive design in 1852, which was based on this original.

What other individuals significantly shaped our beekeeping knowledge?

Some influential scientists and inventors that have impacted beekeeping include Mr Moses Quinby, Francois Huber, and Eva Crane.

The final years and Dzierzon’s legacy

After decades of separation, in 1905, Dzierzon reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church. He died the following year and is buried in Lowkowitz.

Jan’s nephew, Franciszek Dzierżoń, donated all his works to a Polish museum. The Museum of Jan Dzierżon preserves his work and is located in Kluczbork, Poland. It houses five thousand works and publications regarding beekeeping and has a permanent exhibition about Jan’s life.

The Jan Dzierżon Museum of Apiculture was established in 1962 in Kluczbork.

Sadly, the German gendarmes destroyed some of Dzierzon’s equipment and research in 1939. They would go to extreme lengths to show the world that Dzierżoń was German, which meant concealing his Polish roots.

Dzierzon has earned his name as one of the Fathers of Beekeeping. Many future beehive models were based on the work of Dzierzon. The Langstroth hive, still commonly used today, was based on his hive design. His honey bee research helped us make huge advances in understanding their anatomy.

After World War II, the Polish government renamed the Silesian town of Reichenbach im Eulengebirge. It was called Dzierżoniów in honor of Jan Dzierzon.

If you enjoy learning about science and beekeeping, we recommend reading our article on Austrian zoologist Karl von Frisch.

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