(July 5, 1852 – February 28, 1919)
Frank Benton – born July 5, 1852, in Coldwater, Mich. His education was obtained in the public school of that city and in the Michigan Agricultural College. He taught for a few years in rural schools and in the University of East Tennessee. but soon abandoned this work for beekeeping.
For many years Frank Benton was prominently identified with the beekeeping industry of America. He spent 12 years abroad, living in Cypress, Beirut, Syria, Germany, and Austria, investigating the different races of bees in those foreign countries, and exported thousands of queens from numerous subspecies shipping them to all parts of the world. He was the inventor of the Benton cage for shipping queen bees. The cage is used almost exclusively in the modern queen shipping industry, allowing for convenient transport of bees over long distances.
In 1890, he took a position in the United States Department Agriculture, as the first Apiculture Specialist. During his administration of the Department of Apiculture at Washington he occupied very much of his time in the investigation of the various kinds of bees, and traveled much abroad in this work. He was especially interested in the big bee of India, the Apis dorsata, and tried to acclimate them in this country. His administration of the department was a stormy one, but today no one questions the right purpose of his great enthusiasm, and his devotion to the cause and advancement of beekeeping.
His contributions to the beekeeping industry in America are many, if relatively unknown. Besides being the inventor of the Benton queen shipping cage, he exported thousands of queens from numerous subspecies, adding to the genetic diversity of A. Mellifera in the New World. Ironically, many of the bees he imported were not popular with beekeepers, who stopped managing them in favor of gentler races. In 1899, while with the Department of Agriculture, Benton wrote ‘The Honey Bee: A manual For Apicultural Instruction, a 118 page guide for new beekeepers.
He wrote many articles on bees for different publications and was the inventor of the mailing cage known as the “Benton cage.” He was a linguist, speaking fluently several languages. Searching for the big bees of India for Apis Dorsata, be contracted jungle fever. which was the beginning of years of ill-health for him and caused his retirement from active labor, but not from continued interest in apiculture. He sought some betterment of his condition in the warm climate of Florida. Death occurred at Fort Myers, February 28. Benton remains one of the lesser known figures in beekeeping, largely because he lived during a time when critical labor-saving and profit-making making devices, such as the moveable frame hive and the centrifugal honey extractor, were invented, and the Italian honey bee rose to prominence in American beekeeping; by comparison, his contributions seem modest Upon his death in February 1919, the American Bee Journal published an obituary and a short travelogue about Benton (Anonymous 1919); but, apart from a mention of his importations in Pellett’s History of American Beekeeping, little else was written of his work.
American Bee Journal – 1919 – Volume 59 – Page 307
Early in 1880, Frank Benton. went abroad, where eleven eventful years were spent in travel and study, and in investigating the honeybees of Europe, Asia and Africa. Apiaries were established on the Island of Cyprus and in the Holy Lands at Beirut. Syria. In the winter of 1880-81 Ceylon, India. Farther India and Java were visited and extensive collections and studies were made of the native bees of those regions. It was on this expedition that the “jungle fever” was contracted, which ultimately claimed its own. but only after many years of active service had intervened. The winter of 1882-3 found Dr. Benton a student at the University of Athens, and the years 1884-86 were spent at the University of Munich, where he all but completed his work for the doctorate. He was granted the Master of Science degree by the Michigan Agricultural College in 1885 in view of his studies abroad; and some years later the degree of Se. D. was conferred upon him by the Oriental University of America for similar studies. During the years spent in Munich several trips were made to Cyprus and Syria, and on one occasion Tunis and the African coast were visited and the bees of these regions studied. Italy was visited by the way as was also the little province of Carniola, in southern Austria, with the result that the four years from 1886-90 were spent in the fastnesses of the Carnic Alps in investigating, breeding and giving to the world the docile bees native to these mountains.
In 1890 Dr. Benton was commissioned by Dr. C. V. Riley, the United States Entomologist at Washington, to proceed to the Orient for the purpose of carrying on further investigations of the giant bees of India, and to study and import the Blastophaga wasp from Smyrna in the interest of establishing the Smyrna fig industry in California. Unfortunately, this commission passed Dr. Benton on the high seas, as he had already sailed from Hamburg for New York in December of 1890, after an absence from his native land of eleven years.
On ‘his arrival in America Dr. Benton was offered a chair in modern languages at Cornell University, and at the same time came an offer from the United States Government to go into scientific work at Washington. It was not an easy matter to decide, especially for one so rarely gifted in both fields of endeavor. But at the parting of the ways Dr. Benton, at the age of 39 years elected to go into scientific work, thereafter ‘becoming only indirectly identified with academic life as an occasional lecturer. He proceeded to Washington in July, 1891, ‘the proposed trip of exploration abroad being held in abeyance for the time being. and fourteen years intervened before this second journey was finally undertaken.
It was not until June, 1905, that Dr. Benton finally undertook his second tour of apicultural and botanical exploration which became a world embracing expedition, and everywhere he was welcomed and given the highest attention and every consideration by both scientific workers and members of apicultural societies and of the apicultural press. One leading periodical in summarizing his work closed with the statement, “Happy America that can speed such a man on such a journey!”—an index of his appreciative reception abroad. The overland route through the Balkans to Constantinople was followed and from thence the Caucasus was visited, where, in spite of the Russian revolution of that year, much data of value was collected, and representatives of the Caucasian races of bees imported. During the height of the revolution the Bishop of Armenia extended to Dr. Benton the hospitality of his monastery at Erivan, where Dr. Benton took refuge for several weeks until able to proceed to Baku on the Caspian Sea, from which point the long journey inland through Asia was started. Turkestan and Bokhara were visited, from where was imported the Turkestan melon, now becoming extensively grown in this country as a table delicacy. Turning southward, Dr. Benton organized a caravan, traveling a thousand miles through Persia, reaching Teheran early in January, 1906, and India the fore part of March. During the next seven months every part of India was visited, from Quetta in the northwest to the jungles of Assam, front the plains of Jubbulpore to the Himalayas of Simla and Darjeeling. and extensive studies made of the native honeybees which were captured and kept under observation in experimental hives. The guest of His Highness, the Maharaja of Kashmir, Dr. Benton had placed at his disposal a herd of elephants and retainers which greatly facilitated the work of exploration that he was engaged in. Finally, in September, the Philippines were reached and several months were spent in a long tour of this thousand-mile archipelago. At Zamboango, in Mindanao, Dr. Benton was very ill with fever contracted in the jungles of Assam, but despite these difficulties, he was able to rally and continue his work of investigation. The homeward journey was made by way of the Chinese coast. and some time was spent in Japan, Dr. Benton reaching America early in 1907, after an absence of nearly two years, with his long-planned journey an accomplished fact.
American Bee Journal, 1919 – Volume 59 – Page 197
Frank Benton and His 1881 Search for Apis Dorsata, by James P. Strange
Gleanings in Bee Culture, 1919 – Volume 47 – Page 244
American Entomologist, 2001 – Volume 47 – Page 116
Queen Rearing – 1962 – Page 11 -By Harry Hyde Laidlaw, John Edward Eckert
Image: The American Bee-keeper – February 1906 – Page 35