Out of the Museum

Another week, another mystery item

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Where: Beermann Plaza at 640 5th St.

When: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Free: Donations always accepted

OK, several readers had answers to last week’s mystery item from the Lincoln Area Archives Museum.

But this week’s mystery item pictured here will probably be unknown to most readers. If you know what this week’s device is used for, please send answers to


Last week’s mystery item answers

Ruth Wehner, Lincoln: “It’s a bit difficult to see since the photo is taken so far away but it could be a device to hold hot ashes for the fireplace.” 

Ralph Zitzler: “The item in the right hand of the pictured person is a utensil used to add motor oil to a car in the era when motor oil was packaged only in 55-gallon drums. The oil was pumped from the drum into this container that had a spout for pouring into the crankcase. I'm assuming that the item in the left hand is a quantity of motor oil.”

Auburn resident Julie Selecman had the right answer: “My dad, a Newcastle resident, raised bees. It’s a bee smoker. He would fire up the main portion and squeeze the back part like an accordion to push the smoke out. The smoke would calm the bees so that he could work on the hive or take honey without being stung as much.”

Steve Smith: “This week’s mystery item is a beehive smoker. Burning material is contained in the metal cylinder. Smoke is pumped out the nozzle at the top using the leather bellows to calm or distract bees while honey is extracted from a hive.”

Joan Connor: “It sure looks like a bee smoker. I used one like it for years on the bee hives before opening a hive. I put a piece of burning burlap in the smoker and shut the top. As it began to smoke, I passed the smoker around and in front of the hive a few times. It gentles the bees as they get busy worrying about it and not you. I could then open the hive and remove the frames to work on the hive to extract honey.”

Last week’s mystery item is a vintage Woodman Bee Smoker. It includes bellows to puff air into the smoldering material within the device to help discharge smoke. The released smoke calms the bees, which is a valuable goal for beekeepers. 

The devices appeared as early as 1863 and little on today’s device has changed, according to museum docents. Prior to 1863, beekeepers waved smoky, burning twigs near hives to calm their bees.

Beekeepers do not use hot smoke. A bee smoker with small leaves and twigs smoldering is enough to emit the smoke. Baler twine or any other material that smolders and gives off smoke is used.

A good bee smoker is essential to beekeepers ‘activities, today as in the 1800s.

The bee smoker and hundreds of other fascinating history tidbits can be seen Tuesdays through Saturdays at the Lincoln Area Archives Museum.

- Carol Feineman