The relationship between man and honey bees is long and diverse. The earliest record is a wall carving in Spain, dated 6000BC. Honey has been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian kings, dated 3000 years ago. In northern Israel, Archaeologists have unearthed the ruins of a beekeeping operation complete with clay hives, honeycomb and wax, also 3000 years old. More recently in 908 AD, honey bees saved the city of Chester, England when the citizens of the town dropped the city's bee hives on an army of invading Danes and Norwegians, driving them away.
While honey bees are not native to North America (and were referred to by Indians as "the white man's fly"), honey was a common food in the English colonies by the end of the 17th century. Honey bees arrived in Virginia in 1622, sent by the Council of the Virginia Company in London. They reached Massachusetts by 1640, and around 1800 reached and crossed the Appalachians.
Honey bees arrived in Utah in 1848. When the Utah Deseret Bee Association was formed in 1872 there were approximately 2,000 colonies of bees in the state. The bees arrived in California in 1853. According to documentary evidence, it took the honey bee more than 200 years to cross the continental United States.
Prior to 1800, the European breeds taken to America were probably the European dark bee also known as the German Black bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) and the Spanish honey bee (Apis mellifera iberica). At the turn of the 19th century, a new European breed was imported from Italy, the Italian bee (Apis mellifera ligustica). The Italians, being very docile, were readily adopted by beekeepers, taking the place of other breeds.
Historically, beekeeping has declined in the United States. In 1947, there were 5.9 million beehives. This number decreased steadily, leveling off at 4.1 million in the 1980s, but falling off again to 2.9 million (2005). During the same period, the number of beekeepers also declined.