10 August 2021

The First Honey Bees in the Salt Lake Valley

A native male Bumblebee
(maybe Bromus griseocollis)
on a sunflower in downtown SLC, 2020.
Even though it is not a honey bee
it is still a pretty pic!
Honey bees are not native to Utah and were brought in by early Mormon settlers of the Salt Lake Valley. The transportation of the bees prior to the railroad (1869) proved very difficult and few hives survived the journey and even fewer survived Utah’s climate. It took 20 years until successful beehives became sustainable in SLC and Utah.

Non-native bees were introduced to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848. The first wagon train with an inventory including beehives arrived in SLC in Sept 1848, others followed in Sept 1849 and Oct 1849. By 1850, only 10 pounds of honey and beeswax were being produced in SLC indicating at least one (but probably not all) of the hives survived and was producing some honey.

In 1851, Brigham Young called for more bees to be imported to SLC so that the honey could replace the need of making sugar.

Transporting beehives by wagon was risky and often beehives were damaged in accidents or high temperatures melted the honeycomb and killed the bees. Even after a beehive is established there are expected losses from diseases and predators and additional bees are required. Additional bees can be obtained by importing them or by having hives healthy enough to divide, both of which were a challenge to early SLC beekeepers.

By 1860 Brigham Young was discouraged about the Salt Lake Valley ever being able to support honey bees.

In 1863, William D. Roberts of Provo was able to transport 2 beehives from California, only 1 of which fully survived the journey and was able to produce honey. The Deseret News was overjoyed and declared these were “the first bees to live.” Roberts began importing bees from Los Angeles and selling them in Utah for $100 per hive (~$2,700 today).

By 1866 the bees in Utah (and specifically those owned by Brigham Young) were doing better and were swarming (naturally dividing). The transcontinental railroad of 1869 made transportation faster and easier and Roberts quickly utilized it for his business bringing 135 hives back to Utah in April 1870 in a single trip.

After 1870 beekeeping became more widespread and sustainable throughout Utah.

Source and Thanks:
Thanks to J. Michael Hunter’s article in the 2020 Utah Historical Quarterly Vol 88 No 3 (Summer 2020) titled “Laying the Foundation for Utah’s Beekeeping Success 1848-1888.”

I’ve been interested in how the honey bee was imported to Utah for several years now but after finding only a few snippets of info I realized it was going to be a daunting task to thoroughly research it. Thanks much for taking on this task!

You can read the full article for FREE on issuu!

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