The Presidential History of Honey Bees

National Honey Board    February 18, 2016

Earlier this week we celebrated President’s Day, originally known as George Washington’s birthday. This day was designed to honor America’s first president on his birthday, but has since come to be known as a holiday to celebrate all presidents and the great work they have done for our country.

You may have heard about a little initiative the White House took on in 2015 to protect and promote pollinator health. Understanding the importance of the humble honey bee and other insect pollinators, President Obama put together an interagency task force to create a strategy for the promotion of pollinator health.

In case you were wondering just how important honey bees are to our ecosystem, consider this: about one-third of the U.S. diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and honey bees are responsible for about 80 percent of that process. That’s right, one-in-three bites! We can all thank honey bees for our favorite fruits, vegetables and nuts, like apples, almonds, watermelon, cucumbers and avocados. Did you also know that because of their pollination work, honey bees alone add more than $15 billion in agricultural value each year? So yes, honey bees, and all insect pollinators, are pretty important to our way of life, and we are so excited to see them get the attention they deserve.

In honor of this great work done by the Obama administration and all of our great presidents throughout history, we thought it would be fun to share some sweet facts about our nation and its relationship with the humble honey bee.

  • George Washington is said to have been a big fan of honey and enjoyed it in his tea and was quite fond of covering his hoecakes with a reasonable drizzle.
  • Both fans of gardening, and understanding the pollination performed by honey bees, Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both kept bees on their estates.
    • There are still bees kept at Mount Vernon, and you can learn all about them here.
  • According to records at Mount Vernon, George Washington is thought to have been among the first to keep his bees in wooden boxes, as opposed to the traditional black gum hives.
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote about the origins of honeybees in his nature book, Notes on Virginia.
  • Martha Washington is said to be quite the fan of rose-flavored honey (honey boiled with rose petals).
  • Have you heard about the “Bees that Saved America?” It is quite the tale, and you can read about it here.
  • According to our friends at Historical Honeybee Articles, Abraham Lincoln is rumored to be “very fond of honey.”
  • In 2009, Charlie Brandts became the first official White House beekeeper when he installed a hive of nearly 70,000 bees near the garden on the South Lawn. He retired from government in 2012, but is still on-hand to maintain the hive.
  • In its first three years, the presidential hive produced 340 pounds of honey that has been given out as gifts, used to make beer and in both daily and formal meals at the White House.
    • Get a inside look at the Presidential beehive here.

Which of these fun facts surprised you the most? What other facts have you seen about the presidential history of honeybees? 

You can make comments at the National Honey Board blog:

Photos and Facts: What You Can Learn From The White House Honey Bees

The White House Blog    By Tanya Somander   June 16, 2015

It's National Pollinator Week! What does that mean and why should you care? 

Check this out:

That's a White House bee -- up close and personal! Just one of the many pollinators buzzing about the White House grounds that we're working hard to protect. As President Obama's Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren wrote in an email this morning:

"Honeybees, native bees, other insect pollinators, birds, and bats provide tremendously valuable services to society. That's why, here at the White House and across the Administration, we're doing a lot to protect these hardworking contributors to society, which you can learn about here."

Didn't get the email? You can sign up for updates here

The White House is home to its very own beehive, where about 70,000 honeybees contribute to the essential pollination services that bees and other pollinators provide worldwide.

Here's a few facts you might not know about these incredible creatures:

The "buzz" associated with honeybees is the sound of their four wings beating more than 11,000 times per minute. With wing-speeds that high, honeybees can fly faster than most people can run: about 15 miles per hour.

Bees use magnetism to find their way back home to their hives. Worker bees have a region of magnetite in their abdomens that allow them to use the Earth's magnetic field to help them navigate.

Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

But pollinators are struggling. Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of honeybee colonies.

That's why the President's Task Force to promote the health of our pollinators is pursuing a strategy with these three overarching goals: 

  1. Reduce honeybee colony losses to economically sustainable levels
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

Learn more about the President's action plan here.

And if you want to join in the effort to protect the honeybee, plant a pollinator-friendly garden at your own school, home, or business to help achieve the ambitious goal of planting a million pollinator-gardens nationwide.