Woodman’s Bingham Bee Smoker

Date: 1900-1910

Origin: United States

Size: 10 inches high x 10.5 inches deep

Materials: leather, wood, metal

Object ID: WPH-V&F198

What is the role of bees in the vineyard?

The scientific study of bees is known as melittology (Greek) and includes the nearly 20,000 known species of bees. The bee is the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. It is estimated that one-third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

The majority of commercial grape vines do not need bees to pollinate. The vines are hermaphrodites and have both male and female reproductive organs, so they can self-fertilize. Even though bees aren’t needed to pollinate grapes, many of the cover crops, like mustard and clover, planted between the rows of vines require bee pollination. These cover crops make excellent forage for the bees. However problems occur if there are no flowers for bees to flock to. Bees will search for the next things, the sap and fruit juice of the grape as it ripens.

Trivia facts about some bees.

In the mid-nineteenth century the bumblebee as we know it was called the humblebee. The humblebee was celebrated for its powerful evolutionary interaction with the flowers. One always knew when a humblebee was nearby because when they flew, they hummed.

Honey bees stroke their wings 11,400 times per minute. Around 3,500 honey bees fly 55,000 miles to make one pounds of honey.

Honey bees are known for their surplus production and storage of honey, for construction of perennial, colonial nests from wax, and the large size of their colonies.

Now back to the nineteenth century.

In general, bees were deterred from building or inhabiting beehives in the vineyards. The smoke masks the pheromones that bees use to communicate with one another. The result is the bees leave the hive in confusion. The smoke also slows the bees’ movement so they are less likely to swarm and attack people or animals.

The Wine History Project’s Collection

Bee smokers, which could direct smoke into a hive, were invented as early as the 1870s. The Wine History Project’s Collection includes a Woodman’s Bingham Bee Smoker. It was developed and patented by T. F. Binghan of Albronia, Michigan in 1878.

The back of the bee smoker in the Wine History Project Collection has the manufacturer’s name on the wood panel forming the bellows. It is marked with Woodman’s Bingham Bee Smoker. The A. G. Woodman Company, established in 1885 in Grand Rapids, Michigan produced this smoker. This company was the manufacturer of bee paraphernalia including quality bee hives, bee smokers, and bee supplies for many years.

The founder Alpheus Grant Woodman was an American chemist. He was also a member of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Geography Society.

The Dadant Company, established in 1863 (now known as Dadant & Sons, Inc., currently located at 51 South 2nd Street in Hamilton, Illinois) bought the Woodman Company during the 1970s and still manufactures models of the Bingham Bee Smoker.

Woodman’s Bingham Bee Smoker

The Bingham Smokers were advertised in The American Bee Journal (first noted by Collections Manager Cindy Lambert in an 1882 edition). There appeared to be different models: the Doctor Smoker, the Conqueror Smoker, a Large Smoker, an Extra Smoker, a Plain Smoker, and a Little Wonder Smoker. Mr. T. F. Bingham, P. M., or Bingham & Hetherington (makers of the uncapping knives for honey) from Abronia, Michigan were the proprietors of the business selling these smokers. They were available by mail, post-paid, and they ranged in price from $1.00 to $2.00. This author discovered a quote in the Gleanings in Bee Culture Journal made by a Professor Cook in his valuable Manual of the Apiary which stated, “Mr. Bingham was the first to improve the old Quinby smoker by establishing a direct draft.” He continues, “Five years of persistent effort has demonstrated that no one but Bingham has been able to improve a Bingham smoker…Hundreds of Bingham smokers have been in use five-years and are yet (still) in working order with European and American orders being over 3,000 selling these goods to the advanced wants of the most advanced bee-keepers in Europe and America.”

Here’s the Background on how smokers came to be.

The first bee smoker was rather simple in design. Early styles were constructed with tin cans punched with holes and fastened to a handle, a rope, or piece of leather. The user of the smoker lit a fire in the can and then swung the can around so the smoke would escape through the holes. The design evolved over the decades to become more efficient and precise. They eventually had bellows attached and a spout on top so the smoke could be aimed at a specific target. The bellows were pumped to force oxygen through the fire, and the smoke flowed through the tapering spout.

Moses Quinby, the Father of Commercial Beekeeping in the United States

Moses Quinby (1810-1875)Moses Quinby (1810-1875), a Quaker living in Mohawk Valley, New York invented one of the earliest devices to calm honey bees. In 1835 he wrote the article “Mysteries of Bee-Keeping Explained,” establishing his reputation as a knowledgeable beekeeper. In 1873 he created a bee calming device which generated smoke from the lingering of various fuels, including hessian, burlap, pine needles, rotten wood, or herbs. Moses Quinby is thought of as the “father of commercial beekeeping in the United States and has been described by others as, “being an exceedingly practical beekeeper.”

Woodman’s Bingham Bee Smoker Patent Information

US Patent 718689 SmokerU.S. Patent 199,611 was issued on January 29, 1878, to T. F. Bingham of Abronia, Michigan for a Device for Destroying Insects by Fumigation. It was originally applied for on December 12, 1877. The invention was to furnish an improved apparatus for smoking bees and other purposes;  it consisted of a cylindrical stove, provided with a tapering nozzle and a central perforated fire-plate which is attached to the top of a small bellows.

On March 16, 1882, an application was filed again by Bingham and granted in September of that year as U.S. Patent 264,614 for a bee-smoking apparatus that related to improvements to U.S. Patent 199,611 that was granted to him in January of 1878 and reissued on July 9, 1878, as number 8,326. The springs were improved, the exhaust-nozzle of the bellows now was provided with a wire netting/screen serving as a spark-arrester that prevented the entrance of sparks or coals into the bellows. Finally, instead of using leather for the valves, the lining and covering-band were changed to artificial leather (or some material) which would not be affected by weather or attract rats or mice.

In 1891, T. F. Bingham of Abronia, Michigan applied for a patent from the U. S. Patent Office for what he described as, “useful Improvements in Bee-Smokers,” of which “providing an improved means for holding the perforated air plate or grate firmly in position within the body of the stove.” He continued with, “the invention consists in providing a deflecting-hood in connection with the tapering nozzle, whereby the smoke may be directed down vertically between the combs without necessitating the change of the smoker from a horizontal position.” This bee smoker was patented April 26, 1892.

Tracy F. Bingham, now from Farwell, Michigan, applied for another patent for a Bee Smoker with the U.S. Patent Office on October 1902. The patent, number 718,689, was approved on January 20, 1903. His patent this time stated for, “improved bee smokers by an improved form of connection between the tapering nozzle and the cylindrical body of the smoker. It also provided an improved connection between the nozzle and the cap or hood of the smoker that was used to keep the smoker clean. Additionally, it also prevented the tar and soot from passing to the outside”.

In Summary
So, it’s obvious that the bee smoker was and still is, an essential part of a beekeeper’s tool kit. But it would also seem that it was important for the vineyardist for many years and may still be today to some vineyard owners. American ingenuity provided the tool that has evolved with successive patents in place for over 140 years.

Ultimately, what this author has learned is that bees were discouraged from a vineyard in the 19th and 20th Centuries. There has been a dramatic shift in the 21st Century. Where once plants were a negative competition for the vines, many growers are now more aware of creating an ecosystem in their vineyards that is the foundation for a holistic approach. Because of the healthy ecosystem, it seems that bees are now encouraged to come and feed on the pollen. The discovery has been that bees encourage beneficial insects and discourage the need for chemicals and pesticides.