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California’s First Bees Arrived at the San Jose Airport

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The first bees in California were at the SJ Airport? Well sort of. How long do you figure bees have been in California? I’d assumed, oh, say, some millions of years. But it turns out I was off by some millions of years.

Even the 49’s beat them here. So much for my career as a contestant on Jeopardy.

The first honeybees were brought by ship to the east coast of North America in 1622, probably from England. However, it took over two centuries for bees to make it out to the west coast. And again, they didn’t make it on their own—they had to be carried here from overseas.

Damn lazy bees.

According to a plaque outside Terminal A commemorating that event, Christopher Shelton began the California bee migration by purchasing a dozen hives in Panama in 1853. He transported them by rail and a pack mule named “Bongo” to a steamship that brought them to San Francisco. From there he took them to San Jose, where they arrived in March of 1853. Only one hive survived the journey, but those bees did well enough to make three swarms the following year, and from there formed the basis of the state’s honey industry.

And now you know about the second California gold rush.

If you go

First Bees in California
Terminal A, San Jose Airport
Location map


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