miscellaneous musings

Great minds who loved honey bees

Lots of us beekeepers have become absolutely mesmerized by the busy little creatures. They occupy our minds by day and our dreams by night. If you have become obsessed, smitten, bewitched, and beguiled you are not alone.

Many famous people whose names we hear throughout our lives were beekeepers or bee lovers. Some devoted their lives to bees; others studied them as a sideline. Thousands of these people left their mark on history while never giving up their shared passion for the honey bee. An extensive list of such people can be found here, but mentioned below are a few of my personal favorites:

  • Aristotle – he used simple hives with top bars
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Brigham Young
  • Charles Butler – although not a household name, Butler is famous for recognizing that the “king” is actually a “queen”
  • Charles Darwin – about twelve pages of The Origin of Species is about bees
  • Democritus – he was pretty screwed up (he thought bees came from oxen carcasses) but he loved them
  • E. B. White – co-author of The Elements of Style
  • George Washington
  • Gregor Mendel – after discovering the fundamentals of genetics, he spent the rest of his life unsuccessfully trying to breed better bees
  • Henry Fonda
  • Hippocrates – the “father of medicine” recommended honey for all types of ailments
  • Jonathan Swift – famous quote: “Instead of dirt and poison we have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.”
  • Karl von Frisch – won the Nobel Prize for, among other things, decoding the waggle dance
  • Leo Tolstoy – mentions bees many times in War and Peace
  • Lord Baden Powell – founder of the Boy Scouts
  • Maria von Trapp – after escaping occupied Austria, she kept bees in Vermont
  • Martha Stewart – rumor has it she has kept bees for over 25 years
  • Peter Fonda
  • Pythagoras – when he wasn’t playing with triangles (a2 + b2 = c2) he was keeping bees
  • Sir Edmund Hillary – the first person to summit Mount Everest, Hillary and his brother kept 1200 hives
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Viktor Yushchenko – when not leading Ukraine, he tends bees
  • Virgil

They say “great minds think alike,” but I think great minds think about bees.



  • After seeing “Metamorphosis II” at the Portland Art Museum, I asked the M.C. Escher Foundation if Escher was a beekeeper. To my surprise, he was not. He truly did have a sense of wonder, though, and it shows in the woodcut. Tiny eggs transform into larvae, then pupae, then flying bees. It’s such a cool piece of art.

    • You had me worried for a second. I wouldn’t want to leave M.C. Escher off my list if he’d been a beekeeper. I’m such a fan. But as you point out, Escher obviously thought about bees quite a bit. It is a cool piece of art.

  • Bees are given a surah in the Qur´an and honey is in the Qur´an and Hadith for medicine.

    The Bee

    [16:68] And your Lord inspired the bee: build homes in mountains and trees, and in (the hives) they build for you.

    [16:69] Then eat from all the fruits, following the design of your Lord, precisely. From their bellies comes a drink of different colors, wherein there is healing for the people. This should be (sufficient) proof for people who reflect.*

  • Rusty – just found this post, and looked for Napoleon Bonaparte – who should be remembered as an agrarian reformer. I don’t know if he kept bees, but he admired the bee as an example of industriousness and ingenuity, so much that his livery and upholstery was embroidered with bees! I will send you an image showing this.

    He did work hard to improve agriculture in France, and corresponded with Jefferson in the US and Townshend in Britain, about improved methods of land management. So he probably encouraged apiculture, even if he didn’t keep bees of his own.

    Glad you pick up Virgil: we think of him as literature, but actually the Georgics was commissioned by Augustus Caesar as a farming treatise – what today we would call “sustainable agriculture.”

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

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