Moses Quinby – Prolific Inventor and Beekeeper

Moses Quinby Illustration

Moses Quinby was an American beekeeper, author, and prolific inventor of beekeeping equipment. In 1873 he invented the bee smoker with bellows, a game-changing improvement on previous models.

Quinby is widely recognized as the father of practical beekeeping and helped advance America’s commercial beekeeping industry.

This is part of our series on the most influential beekeepers in history.

Quick Facts

NameMoses Quinby
BornApril 16, 1810
Place of BirthNew Castle, New York
DiedMay 26, 1875
OccupationBeekeeper, author, inventor
Notable Beekeeping ContributionsInventor of the bee smoker and the New Quinby Hive, Father of practical Beekeeping, Father of commercial beekeeping in America, Author of Mysteries of Bee Keeping Explained

Early life

Moses Quinby was born in 1810 to William and Hannah Sands Quinby. Quinby and the family moved to Greene County, NY, at age ten.

Although Moses had a job in a sawmill, he decided to take up beekeeping in 1928 to increase his income. The woodworking skills he developed in his vocation were beneficial for building hive equipment.

Quinby married Martha Powell Norbury in 1932. They had two children, John William Quinby and Elizabeth Hannah Quinby.  

Moses and his wife were Quakers who opposed slavery and were part of the Temperance Movement. All of Quinby’s published articles and inventions were never copyrighted or patented.

Also read:

  1. Who was Jan Dzierzon?
  2. The life of C.C Miller.

Quote from Moses Quinby

If you lose a stock of bees, there is a cause or causes producing it, just as certain as the failure of a crop with the unthrifty farmer, which can be traced to a poor fence or unfruitful soil.

Moses Quinby – Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained

Moses Quinby’s contributions to beekeeping

Although Quinby had limited theoretical knowledge of beekeeping, he was extremely practical. His learning process involved running experiments to test how honey bees reacted to different hive environments.

He learned early in his career that placing a box on top of a hive meant they’d build out honeycomb in the top box. It was essential for the bees to have a way to move between the boxes, and he found that a simple hole drilled between them was enough.

Moses Quinby Portrait
A portrait of Moses Quinby.

Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained

Quinby began writing Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained in 1851 and published it in 1853. It was the “Result of More Than Twenty Years Experience in Extensive Apiaries.”

Quinby’s book covers a wide range of beekeeping topics, including the anatomy and behavior of bees and hive management for maximizing honey production.

His book emphasizes the need for observation and experimentation, coupled with practical advice. Later editions of the book included new information like how to propagate Italian bees.

Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained is a classic work still highly regarded by beekeepers today.

Quinby met Reverend Langstroth soon after publishing his book and had the opportunity to inspect his Langstroth hive. He was so impressed with its features that he modified his design and called it the Langstroth-Quinby hive. 

Summary of Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained

If you’re short on time then check out our summary below of the initial chapters. It will give you a solid understanding of the content. You may also want to read the entire book online here.


Chapter one provides a brief history of bees and describes the three types of bees: queen, workers, and drones. The queen is the mother of the entire family and is responsible for depositing eggs in cells.

Workers are responsible for all labor in the hive, ranging from gathering honey and pollen to constructing combs and guarding the hive against intruders.

Drones are reared when the family is large and honey is abundant, but they are of little value in the hive.

This chapter also covers the behavior and duties of each bee type. The natural industrious habit of bees is emphasized as the foundation of all beekeeping benefits.


In Chapter two, Quinby discusses the construction of hives. Suitable materials are essential, and hives should be constructed before the swarming period to avoid interfering with the bees.

There are a variety of opinions about the best type of hive for beekeeping. Quinby claims to have no vested interest in promoting any specific type of hive and advocates for simplicity in beekeeping for better success.

The author believes that every departure from simplicity to gain one point is attended by another correspondent evil that often exceeds the advantage gained.

The text emphasizes the importance of close and frequent inspections of hives and notes that some patented hive designs may interfere with this process.

Quinby also explores the idea of dividing hives to multiply bee stocks without swarming. He notes that without proper partitioning, dividing hives can lead to the loss of a queen and half of the hive.

There is also a passage that discusses when to replace old breeding cells in a beehive. The author argues that old cells do not need replacing as often as many beekeepers think. The same cells can be used for eight years or more without causing harm to the colony.

Quinby also considers the expense of renewing comb and argues that old combs should be used as long as they will work. When they need removing, try pruning rather than driving the bees out. This involves smoking the hive, raising it, and turning it upside down, then using tools to remove the brood combs from the center of the hive.

Quinby advises that swarming is not always predictable and that hives don’t need to be full before swarming. He discusses the size of hives and suggests that large ones filled with comb may prevent swarming.

The author suggests that overly large hives can be unprofitable, while a hive that is too small can result in bees starving during the winter. A hive that is 12 inches square inside is best for many locations. Larger hives are needed in cold northern regions to ensure that the bees have enough honey to survive the winter.

A hive that is 2,000 cubic inches is ideal for safety and profit in his section. Pine is best, but other varieties, such as hemlock or basswood, can also be used. The author suggests that the shape of the hive is not important as long as the required room is provided.

Quinby discusses the benefits of observatory hives that let beekeepers see inside the hive. He suggests constructing a glass hive that allows monitoring the health of the bees to determine whether the colony is gaining or losing strength.


The third chapter discusses the breeding habits of bees, noting that many people do not understand when bees begin raising their young or how the process works. Quinby explains that a queen bee exists in every prosperous swarm and is the mother of the whole family.

Good bee colonies are rarely without brood, even during winter, and small bee stocks begin breeding in the warmest part of the hive. More extensive bee stocks do not need to economize heat as much and will have unoccupied cells for honey and bee bread.

During the height of the breeding season, a circle of cells filled with bee bread will border the sheets of comb containing brood. The queen bee enters each cell headfirst before laying an egg and will not use cells filled with honey or bee bread.

Quinby discusses two points of guesswork in beekeeping: the discrepancy in time in rearing brood, as given by Huber, and the number of eggs deposited by the queen. The author criticizes the lack of accuracy in the information provided by various sources and stresses the importance of testing every assertion and revising the whole matter.

The author notes that food given to bees can affect their development, potentially turning a worker bee into a queen bee. He includes a diagram of a piece of comb with different types of cells, including queen cells.

The old queen leaves with the first swarm, and her daughter takes over her role in the original hive. The relative number of drones and workers depends on the colony’s size. A copious yield of honey produces drones, but they are killed when it becomes scarce.

Further experiments are needed to shed more light on bee reproduction. Some queens deposit eggs that produce only drones. The author is inclined to think that the eggs are all alike but is not fully satisfied. The author has not found evidence to support the idea of workers proving occasionally fertile.

Beekeeping inventions by Quinby

Moses Quinby was a prolific inventor and innovator. Some of his best-known inventions include the following:

  • Quinby Bellows Smoker: In 1873, Quinby invented the first modern smoker tool for beekeepers. Learn more about the evolution of bee smokers here.
  • New Quinby Hive: In 1868, Moses invented the New Quinby hive, which improved the Langstroth. He tweaked the wax foundations and movable frames and introduced Quinby Hive Clamps that held the boxes together.
  • Beekeeping veil: Although Quinby did not invent the veil, he made helpful modifications to the Alexander model.
  • First U.S. honey extractor: Mr Quinby is widely considered the first to make a honey extractor in the United States. It was based on the work of Franz Hruschka.
  • Uncapping knife: Quinby and Root were the first to bring a curved-pointed uncapping knife to market, which was a handy tool for honey extraction.
  • Pollen substitute: Moses was among the first to develop a pollen substitute consisting of buckwheat, rye, and sawdust.

In addition to his many beekeeping equipment designs, Moses Quinby also originated the shake-off method of American foulbrood treatment. However, credit for this technique was later attributed to McCarty.

Quinby was among the first to keep Italian bees in the United States.

Mr Moses Quinby illustration

Leadership roles in the beekeeping industry

Quinby was a practical beekeeper who enjoyed spending much of his time working on hive tools and equipment. However, he played an essential role in shaping the direction of beekeeping in America.

The Northeastern Beekeepers’ Association was founded in 1870. Starting in Albany, NY, Quinby was elected president and led the organization for five years. He declined re-election in 1875.

Quinby had a one-year stint as the North American Beekeepers’ Association President.

The later years

Moses Quinby died in 1875, less than a year after leaving the Northeastern Beekeepers’ Association. It was a sudden death caused by heart failure. He is buried in Saint Johnsville, NY, with his wife, Martha.

After Mr. Quinby’s death, son-in-law Lyman C. Root began revising and illustrating Quinby’s writings. It was titled Quinby’s New Beekeeping – A Complete Guide to Successful Bee-Culture. Root made updates to the book until 1915.

Summing up

Moses Quinby was a prominent American beekeeper of the 19th century, known for his innovations in beekeeping practices and his popular book, “Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained.”

Quinby introduced several innovations, such as the hive smoker and uncapping knife. He was also instrumental in promoting beekeeping as a profitable industry, and his legacy as a beekeeping pioneer continues to influence modern practices in the field.

But Moses Quinby led a well-balanced life with many other interests. In addition to a love of working with wood and mechanics, he was also an accomplished chess player and played the flute and banjo.

If you enjoyed this article, check out how Karl von Frisch advanced our understanding of honey bees. You can also learn about Eva Crane here.

Further reading: Online books by Lyman C. Root.

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