Where did the modern Langstroth dimensions come from? - Honey in oil cans

Reading through historical texts/references, I haven’t (yet) been able to find a specific reference that describes how the modern day Langstroth hive got its dimensions. Several of the frame dimensions etc. are described, but why the top bar length?, and depth of frame? What influenced the decision? and how did we end up where we are today?

Reading through some historical articles in Trove recently, I discovered this interesting, and perhaps a little surprising Australian news article about storing honey in oil/petrol cans from 1934.

The full (corrected) text follows:

Beekeepers’ Request.
The United Beekeepers’ Association of New South Wales, through Its secretary, Mr. A. Shallard, of South Woodburn, has asked the Federal Attorney-General at Canberra that when the Royal Commission on Petrol sits again Inquiry might be made why the Federal Parliament prohibited the Importation of petrol in cases and tins by an increase of duty. The stopping of petrol imports In this form, he considered, was detrimental to the rural interests of Australia, particularly to apiculturlsts.

“Petrol in cases,” Mr. Shallard continued, "could be brought at a lower price than from the pumps. In addition to that, the buyer got the cases and tins. The latter are valuable to the men in the bush because they can be put to a dozen different uses. But they are particularly useful to the apiarist to pack his honey in. If an apiarist bought 20 cases of petrol he not only made a profit on the petrol, but he got enough containers for a ton of honey.

"The empty tins and cases became articles of commerce, and they could be purchased for a shilling each, that is to say, the tins cost /3 each and the case /6. These tins at 3/ a dozen (plus another 3/ to put them in order) were a great boon to the beekeeper, and when the supply was cut off it appeared as though the Federal Parliament was sacrificing an Australian rural Industry in the interests of the foreign oil companies.

"Perhaps this is incorrect, and I am asking the commission, in the interests of the apiarists, to find out the truth of the matter. When the Importation of petrol in cases was cut off by the Federal Government and the supply of tins cut off, new tins had to be bought. These have to be bought in the capital cities, and cost 13/6 a dozen, plus freight On the Northern Rivers this costs /3 per tin, making the cost on the apiary16/6, or 1/41 each against the old price of /6 each. As these tins have to be given away with the honey the price has become a big tax on the industry.

“The beekeepers want to undo the injustice done them, and if the Commissioners are satisfied that it would be to the Interests of the rural population of Australia, and especially to the apiarists, that petrol in cases and tins should be allowed to enter under the old conditions it might perhaps embody an opinion to that effect in its report.”

This article specifically references beekeepers using both the tins (to store honey) and the cases. Intrigued, I tracked down and purchased a case of similar vintage that was used for storing 4 x 2 gallon petrol/oil tins.

The face shows that the crate holds 8 imperial gallons

The sides are nailed together from standard sized boards/panels.

Standing upright, it doesn’t look like much, but when you turn the crate on its side… the mystery solves itself.

The frame standing inside is a ‘standard’ modern full depth Alliance frame. With the boards/panels removed from the sides, and re-affixed to the other edges, there would also be enough timber left over to make rails/ledges for the frames.

I was originally planning to demonstrate by taking this crate apart, but Hipsters have driven the price of antique boxes sky high, so it’s probably better I do it in CAD :wink:


I heard in a talk from Leo Sharashkin that the length of the top bar was somewhat determined by natural comb at the time hives were being designed. His assertion was that early hive inventors noticed that comb in natural hives rarely expanded past 12 inches and when it did it started to have a curve in it to support the weight of the comb. The Langstroth box we use today works at 19" because it has wood to support the weight and is most often guided by the foundation. In the Layens hives the frames are around 15" and as such do not require foundation; the assertion being it is short enough that they will not require the curve if built without foundation.

The historical footnote is a great piece of sluething…

My personal observation would argue that ‘natural’ comb always curves, not just when it’s approaching/expanding past 12 inches.

Here is an example of some comb we have extracted from natural hives. I have many more from early established hives/swarms that are narrow/curved.


The depth of a Langstroth standard depth frame is only ~232mm, Delayens is 420mm. If anything, the DeLayens hive has less support/contact to a shorter top bar to carry comb weight.

Neither of these dimensions govern the requirement of foundation, it’s not required in either case. A Langstroth frame can just as easily be drawn as ‘natural comb’ without foundation, the foundation isn’t added to support the comb, the wire is. The wire is also only really necessary if the frames are to be centrifugally extracted due to the force applied to the comb in the process. If you were to extract Langstroth frames with a press, wireless frames would easily support the weight of a 232mm depth (and deeper) comb.

Leo Sharashkin also shows the use of wire in his version of the DeLayens’ frame to support the comb: