Practical milling – Part 1


By Sophie Nieport

Darke County Parks

Terry Clark, Master Miller, just recently loaned me an invaluable item. It is a book titled Practical Milling by Professor B.W. Dedrick published in 1924. I was looking for an entire mill diagram I could show an artist who may be making one specific to Bear’s Mill, and this book has it! It also has a lot of other detailed information regarding milling that I didn’t even know I needed to know.

This book was written because the ‘newly’ instituted Flour Mill Engineering School at Pennsylvania State College had no acceptable text books on U.S. milling. B.W. Dedrick, the head of this Mill Engineering School, took it upon himself to fulfill the demand for a book that goes into “sufficient length and details regarding the fundamentals of milling, principles of machines, methods, etc., giving the student of milling a clear concise conception of all that pertains to flour or cereal milling from the ground up.”

With 25 chapters and 568 pages, there were plenty of non-related, scientific details that I skimmed over. However, I would love to share with you some interesting facts that do apply to our beloved Bear’s Mill and milling in general. As I write the overview of this book written in 1924, I am sure some of these statements do not hold true today, but some do and will forever.

The Preface of the book starts off with a wonderful paragraph. “Milling – by which is meant the grinding of grain to produce meal or flour from which bread is made – is as old as the cultivation of the cereals by the earliest primitive man. It is a most ancient and honorable calling.”

The term ‘Mill’, originated with a building for grinding grain, is now also in connection with other buildings or operations such as paper, cotton, iron, steel, paint, wood, and even puppy mills. However, the term ‘miller’ has not been used by these other professions. A miller is singularly used to title the person performing the grinding of grain.

Except agriculture, milling is the oldest industry in the history of man. Man’s first mechanical engineer on record was the ancient builder of mills. These ‘millwrights’ were the “only people capable of designing, building, and placing machinery in the mills.” The term millwright also extended on to other factories wherever machinery was employed.

The first home of wheat and tools for grinding it were found in Southwestern Asia. The first tool used to crush grain was a mortar and pestle-type which basically consisted of rubbing two stones together. It was hard, tedious work done by the women. Only a certain amount of flour could be made each day.

An improved form of ancient millstone is called a quern. Two circular stones sitting on top of each other, the bottom stone stationary, the top one with a wood handle to turn and hole in the middle. The grain is put into the hole, or eye, and the upper stone is turned. The meal or flour falls out from between the stones, into a basket in which the stones are placed to catch it.

As larger communities were formed and people became more civilized, those who lived in the cities didn’t have ground to raise grain, and the farmers did not have the time to grind the grain. Hence created a class of working men that ground the grain for others, called Millers.

The larger the demand, the larger the stones, the need for more than just human power. Some millstones were turned by horses, oxen, donkeys, and eventually water and wind.

Stay tuned for my next article, Practical Milling – Part 2. In the meantime, a re-print of Practical Milling can be purchased through SPOOM’s bookstore at The gift shop at Bear’s Mill has two similar-interest books for sale: James Leffel’s Improved Turbine Water Wheel, and The Versatile Millstone Workhorse of many Industries.

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