Alpine Historical

John Stewart Harbison | Pioneer Beekeeper

Harbison home at 12th and C Streets in downtown San Diego. From the San Diego Historical Society Collection.

Pioneer Beekeeper 1826 - 1912

John Stewart Harbison was born the third child of William and Margaret (Curry) Harbison, on a farm near Freedom, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, on September 29, 1826.

He became a beekeeper in the tradition of his father, and later migrated to the west coast of the United States. After spending some years in other California locations, on November 28, 1869 he arrived in San Diego aboard the ship “Orizaba” with one hundred and ten colonies of bees. In the spring of 1874, he moved with his wife and daughter to a homestead near the Sweetwater River, twenty-three miles east of San Diego in a little valley now known as Harbison Canyon. Within seven years time, he was the largest producer of honey in the world, operating 2,000 to 3,000 hives. At that time, having several hundred hives was considered a large operation.

His success in capitalizing on the vast honey potential of San Diego County, along with his extensive campaign of selling bees to the residents of the county, was the major force in making San Diego county the honey producing state of the Union. John Harbison was a major contributor to the theory of bee culture with his development of new tools and methods that characterized the remarkable advances made in nineteenth century apicultural science. Both he and his brother William were important early authors on beekeeping science.

John Harbison opened up the great retail markets east of the Mississippi River needed to absorb the tremendous honey crops produced in California. He was worthy of the title bestowed upon him by members of the bee industry–“King of the Beekeepers.”

Mr. Harbison died on October 12, 1912, at the age of eighty-six.

A more extensive biography of John S. Harbison can be found on the San Diego Historical Society’s website.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart