Charles Dadant Papers, 1861-1937


(LOUIS) CHARLES DADANT was born in the village of Vaux-sous-Aubigny, Haute-Marne, France, on May 22, 1817. During his childhood and youth he often was in fields and woods, showed interest in the workings of nature, and kept bees as a pastime. He received his formal education at the grammar and secondary school in Langres with the intention of becoming a physician like his father. But at the age of eighteen, after completing school, he went into the wholesale dry goods trade, first as a clerk and later, from circa 1847, as a partner in a firm located in Langres. After the overthrow of the July Monarchy, however, there was a general loss of confidence in business, which resulted in the decline and failure of the firm. Dadant then was accepted as a partner in the tannery of his father-in-law, after whose death he assumed full ownership. But trade was diverted from Langres by the advent of a railroad in 1856, which skirted it for the cities of the valley; and the tannery failed. Dadant's experiences in commerce and trade supported ideas that he entertained earlier from his observation of nature, reading, and conversations with friends of his school days: the beliefs that capitalism should be replaced by utopian socialism (he was attracted especially to the ideas of Charles Fourier and André Godin), monarchy by republics, and religion by free thought. His anticlericalism, however, did not prevent him from marrying a deeply religious woman, (Marie) Gabrielle Parisot, on June 1, 1847, or later from having amicable, fruitful relationships with devout beekeepers, such as the abbé Sagot and the Reverend L. L. Langstroth.

In April 1863, aged forty-six and impoverished, Charles Dadant immigrated to the United States; his wife and children followed in October. They settled on a small brush farm two miles north of Hamilton, Illinois. Dadant intended to make a living by growing grapes, the principal crop of his native Burgundy and Champagne, but in Illinois its cultivation proved insufficient. The following year he obtained two colonies of common black bees in box hives, the modest beginning of what soon would become an eminent career. Arriving with no knowledge of English, he taught himself to read it well, but he never was able to speak it fluently.

Dadant tried many types of hives in order to discover the best form and size of hive for the maintenance of colony strength and honey production. He became convinced of the superiority of the Langstroth hive and circa 1868 concluded that a movable-frame hive deeper than Langstroth's or Quinby's would be best. (In Philadelphia in 1851 L. L. Langstroth discovered the bee space, a space of not more than three-eighths of an inch, which bees leave open for their passage to and from the hive; and invented the modern movable-frame hive, whose distinguishing features are a movable bottom, and frames with spaces between them and the sides of the hive.) During the next thirty years Dadant contributed hundreds of articles to European and American bee journals, in particular, the American Bee Journal, Apiculteur (Paris), Journal des Fermes et des Châteaux (Paris), Culture (Paris), Apicoltore (Milan), and Revue Internationale d'Apiculture (Nyon). To American bee men, who for the most part were receptive to the movable-frame hive, he advocated from 1870 on, the use of large hives; from 1885 on he disagreed with the contraction principle and small hive advocated by the Michigan beekeepers, James Heddon and W. Z. Hutchinson. To European bee men, who still used fixed comb hives, he urged from 1869 on, the use of movable-frame hives; he was an important partisan of the mobilistes , as the movable-hive men were known, against the fixistes , as the common hive men were known. The first and principal advocate of the movable-frame hive to Frenchmen, he was largely responsible for its adoption by the French and other Europeans; it is by his name that this kind of hive is known on the continent. (In the twentieth century Europeans have preferred the deeper dimensions of the Dadant hive; Americans, the shallower dimensions of the Langstroth hive.) In 1874 Dadant's Petit Cours d'Apiculture was published in France.

From 1881 until 1888 Dadant and his son Camille Pierre corresponded with L. L. Langstroth concerning a fourth edition of Langstroth's The Hive and the Honey Bee, the classic work on the physiology and habits of the honey bee and the principles of its culture. Langstroth, at times incapacitated by melancholia, entrusted the revision of the book to the Dadants in 1885, which they published in 1888. The French translation by Charles Dadant was published in 1891.

Dadant made several other important contributions to the honey industry. After some disappointing attempts and a trip to Italy in 1872, he solved the problem of the safe transatlantic shipment of Italian golden bees (1874). His suppliers were Dr. Blumhof of Biasca, Giuseppi Fiorini of Monselice, and Salvato S. Sartori of Milan. The Italian Goldens were considered more industrious and better honey gatherers than the common black bee of the United States, which they replaced. In the early 1870's Dadant became convinced of the value of sweet clover as a honey plant, and grew it; he later believed that much of the sweet clover growing on both sides of the Mississippi River originated from his stock. Dadant, along with L. L. Langstroth and Moses Quinby, contributed to the early development of the honey extractor, which has been responsible for the replacement of comb honey by liquid honey commercially. He and his son published the pamphlet Extracted Honey in 1881. In 1878 they began to manufacture comb foundations, which was a new field and in a crude state of development. In the same year Dadant also began to appeal for laws prohibiting the adulteration of honey and the sale of glass jars of glucose under the name of honey.

During his life Dadant was made an honorary member of more than twenty beekeepers' associations throughout the world. He died in Hamilton, Illinois, on July 16, 1902; his death was lamented in every bee journal on both continents.

CAMILLE PIERRE DADANT, the only son of Charles and Gabrielle, was born in Langres, France, on April 6, 1851. He was twelve years old when he immigrated to the United States; he then took care of household purchases and the family's finances, since his father was not fluent in English. Although he was introduced to beekeeping at the age of fourteen, he was timid with bees and did not become an apiarist until the age of eighteen. By 1874 he was actively engaged in the family business in partnership with his father. After his father's death in 1902 he headed the firm, with the participation of his sons, until his retirement in 1925.

Camille Pierre Dadant assisted his father in several revisions of The Hive and the Honey Bee (1888, 1893, 1896, 1899). The four succeeding editions (1907, 1922, 1923, 1927) were his work. He authored First Lessons in Bee-Keeping (1915), The Dadant System of Bee-Keeping (1920), Bee Primer (1921), and Apicultura, published by the republic of Mexico; they have been translated into several European languages. In 1926 Dadant translated from the French New Observations on Bees by François Huber. Fond of literature and reading, he had a library of several thousand works on beekeeping. He was a member of the committee whose task it was to raise funds and determine the location (the University of Wisconsin in Madison) of the C.C. Miller Memorial Apicultural Library, circa 1922.

Dadant was president of the National Beekeepers' Association in the years 1906-1907, and president of the Illinois State Bee-Keepers' Association in the years 1909-1911. He was a member of the Mississippi River Water Power Company, which fostered the damming of the river at Hamilton, completed in 1912. In 1912 Dadant & Sons acquired the American Bee Journal; Dadant was its editor and publisher from that year until 1925. His sons, Henry Camille and Maurice George, later became active contributors to the journal. In 1920 Dadant was decorated with the Order of the Crown by King Albert of Belgium for his services in aiding the rehabilitation of beekeeping in the devastated regions of France and Belgium following the First World War. He married Marie Marinelli on November 1, 1875; they had seven children. Camille Pierre Dadant died in Hamilton, Illinois, on February 22, 1938.

THE FIRM was called Charles Dadant & Son from 1874 until 1902; since then its name has been Dadant & Sons. In the mid-1880's the firm was offering bees, honey, beeswax, comb foundations, and apiarian supplies; it eventually also would supply bleached wax for cosmetics, molded wax for industrial purposes, and church candles. In 1938 Dadant & Sons operated apiaries in several sections of Hancock County, Illinois (including the original apiary at the Dadant farm); Clark County, Missouri; western Iowa; and northern Minnesota. In addition to publishing the American Bee Journal, the firm publishes bee books, for example, The Hive and the Honey Bee (1946, 1963, 1975). In 1975 Dadant & Sons (Hamilton, Illinois) and the A.I. Root Co. (Medina, Ohio) were the two largest bee supply companies in the United States.