Depictions of humans collecting honey from wild bees are dating up to 15,000 years back. Efforts to domesticate bees are shown in Egyptian art around 4,500 years ago. Simple hives and smoke were used and honey was stored in jars, some of which were found in the tombs of pharaohs such as Tutankhamun.
It was not until the 18th century that European natural philosophers undertook the scientific study of bee colonies and began to understand the complex and hidden world of bee biology.
Swiss scientist Francois Huberwas the first to prove by observation and experiment that queens are physically inseminated by drones outside the hive. Huber is universally regarded as "the father of modern bee-science".
Early forms of honey collecting meant the destruction of the entire colony when the honey was harvested. The wild hive was crudely broken into, using smoke to suppress the bees, the honeycombs were torn out and smashed up — along with the brood they contained.
During the medieval period abbeys and monasteries were centres of beekeeping, since beeswax was highly prized for candles and fermented honey was used to make alcoholic mead in areas of Europe where vines would not grow.
The 19th century saw this evolution in beekeeping practice completed through the perfection of the movable comb hive by the AmericanLorenzo Lorraine Langstroth.
Langstroth was the first person to make practical use of Huber's earlier discovery that there was a specific spatial measurement between the wax combs, later called the bee space, which bees do not block with wax, but keep as a free passage.
Having determined this bee space (between 5 and 8 mm), Langstroth designed a series of wooden frames within a rectangular hive box, carefully maintaining the correct space between successive frames, and found that the bees would build parallel honeycombs in the box without bonding them to each other or to the hive walls.
This enables the beekeeper to slide any frame out of the hive for inspection, without harming the bees or the comb, protecting the brood contained within the cells.
It also meant that combs containing honey could be gently removed and the honey extracted without destroying the comb. The emptied honey combs (Stickies) could then be returned to the bees intact for refilling.
Langstroth's book, The Hive and Honey-bee, published in 1853, describes his rediscovery of the bee space and the development of his patent movable comb hive. You can read this book online http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24583
The hives commonly used in Australia today are Langstroth hives.