Harry H. Laidlaw, ESA Fellow (1991)

Harry H. Laidlaw, Jr. (deceased 19 September 2003), a professor at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), was elected as Fellow in 1991. Dr. Laidlaw was considered the “father of honey bee genetics.” His work to develop methods for artificial insemination of honey bee queens (Apis mellifera L.) led to the first manual insemination of an insect, and the beginning of honey bee breeding and genetic research.

Dr. Laidlaw was born in Houston, TX on 12 April 1907. He spent his childhood and teenage years in the Southeastern U.S. During his childhood, he worked intimately with beekeepers, the first being his grandfather. Together, they developed a method to entice drone bees to insert their genitalia into a queen bee, a method known as the “Quinn-Laidlaw hand mating method.” With this discovery, Laidlaw and his grandfather accomplished what scientists had been trying to successfully complete for a century-controlled mating of queen bees. He gained entrance to the University of Louisiana and completed an M.S. in entomology in 1934. He worked concurrently at the USDA Southern States Bee Culture Field Laboratory (now the USDA-ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Laboratory). During his M.S. research, he discovered the morphological reason artificial insemination attempts on queen bees were not successful. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in 1939. By this time, he had developed a way to bypass the morphological barriers and created the first successful insect artificial insemination device. After completion of his Ph.D., Dr. Laidlaw was inducted in the U.S. Army where he served as army entomologist between 1942¬–1946. In 1947, Dr. Laidlaw accepted a position in the Department of Entomology at UC Davis. He remained at the university until his retirement in 1974, also serving as the first associate dean for the college of agriculture in 1969.

Dr. Laidlaw opened the door to the study honey bee breeding and to many aspects of insect genetics. Much of the work he accomplished with honey bee breeding led to development of bee lines for commercial use. He published four books on queen rearing and breeding, and these books are still used today as primers for beekeepers. He published numerous papers, the last of which was published at age 87. After his retirement, he continued to conduct research and consult for bee breeding programs; he also established a honey bee breeding program for the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture.

Dr. Laidlaw was elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955. He had many international and national awards for his service and merit to beekeeping. He received the C.W. Woodworth Award of the Pacific Branch ESA in 1991, and an Award of Distinction in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science from UC Davis in 1997. Three years before his death, the UC Davis Honey Bee Research Facility was renamed the Harry Hyde Laidlaw, Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, in his honor.

(updated March, 2012)