Let’s face it, beekeeping isn’t exactly a mainstream hobby so it’s rare to encounter someone who can claims the title of “beekeeper”. It’s even more rare to meet someone who’s not only famous, but also a beekeeper.
Here’s our take on the most famous beekeepers in history!
Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1962)
Sylvia Plath was an American poet and author. She’s best known for contributing works that were quite dark and in the end her life imitated her art. Plath was found dead in her home at the young age of 30 due to an apparent suicide.
Ms. Plath did enjoy beekeeping and was exposed to it at an early age by her father who was an entomologist (bug scientist) and beekeeper. Plath draws from her experience in beekeeping in a work titled: The Bee Meeting.
Maria von Trapp (1905-1987)
Yes, this is in fact the same nun immortalized in the Rogers & Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music which was later adapted into the beloved movie by the same name. Leave me a comment if you just hummed a line from one of the songs from the movie! Much of the story is based on fact although the details are of course dramatized.
The picture above is from Mrs. von Trapp’s naturalization documents as their family eventually came to the United States and eventually settled in Stowe, Vermont. The family established a lodge which is still operating today. It was during this time that von Trapp took up beekeeping.
Before we go to the next famous beekeeper on our list check out this great clip of the Von Trapp Singers.
Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Aristotle was the first in a line of hybrid beeks who were part beekeeper and part scientist known as “scientific beekeepers”. While history has seen fit to focus on his more massive contributions to humanity in subjects such as logic, ethics and philosophy this Grecian patriarch also contributed to beekeeping.
Aristotle isn’t formally known as making any strong contributions as a scientist, but he was incredibly curious about the science of biology and bees were a favorite subject. Here is an example of one of his more notable (and accurate) observations about the honey bee:
During each flight the bee does not settle upon flowers of different kinds, but as it were from violet to violet, and touches no other species till it returns to the hive. -Aristotle, 350 B.C.
Steve Vai (1960 – Present)
If you’re a rock music enthusiast then our next famous beekeeper needs no introduction. For those who are less knowledgeable, Steve Vai is known as a “Guitar Virtuoso” and has toured with legends like Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake just to name a few. Today, Mr. Vai still records stratospheric guitar riffs in his own solo act which has sold over 15 million records and garnered him 3 Grammy awards.
In his personal life, this god of rock has found time for a more simple life with his family which includes a passion for beekeeping. What’s more, Vai has taken his love for beekeeping to a higher level by donating the proceeds of his honey to his charity Make a Noise Foundation which provides funding for music education.
Check out this great video of Vai at home harvesting and processing his honey.
Brigham Young (1847-1877)
While Brigham Young is most remembered as an early member of the Mormon church and successor to it’s founder, Joseph Smith, he was also heavily involved in beekeeping. When Young wasn’t busy promoting controversial subjects like polygamy and racism, Utah’s first governor was busying himself with the art of beekeeping. Young and his legacy were so synonymous with beekeeping that they are directly responsible for the emblem of a skep hive on the state flag and Utah’s nickname, “The Beehive State.”
Hippocrates (460-377 BC)
The next famous beekeeper our our countdown is arguably the most important. While Hippocrates contributed to beekeeping, his greatest contributions were in the field of medicine. Today he is known as “The father of medicine.”
Hippocrates combined his interest in beekeeping with his medicine. He was a pioneer in the art of administering bee venom for arthritic patients and even took his own advice when he said, “let your food be medicine.” He commonly prescribed honey as a remedy for a wide range of illnesses. He wrote,
Honey and pollen cause warmth, clean sores and ulcers, soften hard ulcers of lips, heal carbuncles and running sores.
Martha Stewart (1941 – Present)
Most of us know Martha Stewart from her TV shows, books, magazines and general crafty creations for which she’s become famous. However, before her stint as a standard bearer for all thing homespun, she was a model, stockbroker and a long time beekeeper!
Stewart’s love of gardening is what she credits for driving her to become a beekeeper, because she realized how important bees were to plant life. Here’s an interesting video about beekeeping techniques on Martha’s blog: Click Here If you listen carefully at the beginning, she talks briefly about her own beekeeping experience.
Sir Edmond Hillary (1919 – 2008)
Edmond Hillary began beekeeping long before he was bestowed the honor of Knighthood and the “Sir” that came with it. For those who don’t know, Hillary was the first Westerner in history to scale the earth’s highest peak – Mount Everest. In fact, although Sir Edmond Hillary records that he loved beekeeping going so far as to become a commercial beekeeper for profit with his brother, Rex.
However, this choice was calculated as the work was done seasonally and would leave him time during the slow periods to pursue his passion: mountain climbing. Hillary soon made his first bit of history by topping Mount Everest, but didn’t stop there. He went on to participate in expeditions to the South Pole and become a great philanthropist. In spite of all his accomplishments, “Ed” as he preferred to be called, still just thought of himself as a beekeeper.
Check out this video of Hillary’s historic return to New Zealand after conquering the mountain:
Peter Fonda (1940 – Present)
Aside from his acting, Mr. Fonda is probably known better for being unashamedly counter cultural. He’s also related to another famous “Fonda”, Jane Fonda who regularly made the news for her views against the Vietnam War.
That aside, when this “bad boy” isn’t busy riding his motorcycle or speaking out about injustice you might find him beekeeping! Fonda was also honored by the Florida State Beekeeping Association as Beekeeper of the Year because of his onscreen portrayal of the character Ulee (a beekeeper) in the fantastic movie Ulee’s Gold. I highly recommend this for those who haven’t seen it.
How About Some Presidential Beekeepers?
George Washington (1732 – 1799)
That’s right! Our first president was a beekeeper. Before the days where politics was a career choice, most men and women who served our country were professionals in something else. George Washington always stated that he was first and foremost a progressive farmer. In fact, Mount Vernon (Washington’s Home) was a destination for those seeking to learn the latest agricultural techniques.
Some historians think that Washington kept “Log-gum” style hives which were common at this time. However, records at Mount Vernon indicate that Washington might have also been a leader in beekeeping as well as agriculture and was already using wooden box hives to produce honey and keep bees to pollinate his crops. Washington loved eating honey as well. His favorite breakfast was corn pancakes (referred to as “hoecakes”) slathered in honey.
Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826)
Thomas Jefferson who was our third president was man of wide and varied interests. He was a farmer, a reader, an agrarian, a musician, a lawyer and also noted as a beekeeper. In fact, drawings made by Jefferson of his Monticello estate depict bee houses on both the north and south of his property. What’s more, Mr. Jefferson also recorded some historical observations about bees in Notes on the State of Virginia.
The honey-bee is not a native of our continent. Marcgrave indeed mentions a species of honey-bee in Brazil. But this has no sting, and is therefore different from the one we have, which resembles perfectly that of Europe. The Indians concur with us in the tradition that it was brought from Europe…The Indians therefore call them the white man’s fly…
I didn’t rank the people on our list on purpose. I want you to decide. Who is the most notable beekeeper on our list and why?
Did I miss someone who should be on the list?
Now’s your chance to be heard!