In the book of Genesis, God instructed man to earn his food by the sweat of his brow.
Bread is mentioned many times in the Bible. Ever since wheat was first harvested as a wild plant to cultivated varieties and flour was milled, bread has been a necessity of human existence.
Undoubtedly, the first grain mill was merely two flat stones. Grain was placed on the face of the bottom one and the top stone was either dropped or pounded on it. This later developed into more satisfying delivery of flour.
Greeks in ancient times recorded flour making. “Two round flat stones about two feet in diameter were used. The upper stone is turned by a handle inserted into one side, the top one has a hole in the middle into which the grain was placed by grinding (turning) the top stone. The grain proceeds from the center to the rim and thus becomes flour.”
Milling stones have been found all over Europe and the British Isles. A few American Indians used this same method. Others ground boiled maize to a paste. The Omahas pound their grains in a pestle and mortar affair.
Oregon Indians used the iris tubers, as much as grains, for flour. Due to their plentiful supply, California Indians employed oak acorns between a round stone and a cup shaped hollow in a flat rock.
In primitive states, every family made its own flour at home. The millstones were a necessary article in all homes. A Hebrew law forbid anyone to take them as payment of debt – “No man shall take the upper or the nether (bottom) millstone to pledge, for he taketh a man’s life to pledge”.
Whether the upper millstone was lifted and let fall, as in pounding, or rolled (like a rolling pin), – this was the beginnings of milling development. As long as every chore was accomplished via man or beast, no mechanical progress occurred for centuries.
Women were the laborers in milling in Hebrew and Greek history. “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, the other left”.
Prisoners also were used in grinding flour. Samson, a captive of Phillistines, “did grind in the prison-house”. Jeremiah pictures captives of his people: “They took the young men to grind”.
One form of mill was a type wherein the lower (nether) stone was cup shaped, and the upper was rounded to fit into the cup shape stone below. Others were flat, as most found today are.
Both had grooves cut into them where the ground flour flowed outward. Human or animal power turned the top stone.
Roman emperors were probably the first to establish mills to serve the poor people with free flour. Pauperizing the people (not allowing them to work for a living), may have led to Roman downfall.
Man or horse power to turn a grist mill top stone was not as powerful as a waterfall. Sometimes, 10 horses afforded power, but maintenance of such a number of horses required a lot of capital.
The Romans used the swift current of the Tiber River to drive their mills. Aqueducts furnished other mills with water to power them. This new era of water power began around 100 B.C.
There was little or no new development in mill operation until 1700. Wind mills were used before this time also.
Kings and feudal barons owned all the mills in Europe during the Middle Ages. Millers received their wages through a certain percentage of the grain ground.
The invention of the steam engine and its application to diverse industries heralded the beginning of a new era in milling. James Watt applied steam power to milling power in 1783 on the Thames River.
This mill had 20 pairs of millstones capable of producing 10 bushels of flour per hour. Two steam engines of 50 horsepower each supplied the power. Metal replaced wood cogs and bearings previously used.
The next advance was iron and steel rollers around the early 1800s. Also at that time grading, purifying and grinding entered the milling process in full force.
Flour is now produced to a finer state and more hygienic than early eras. There are water driven grist-mills still operating in America – but most, if not all, are for demonstration and public observation.
Little Beaver Creek State Park in eastern Columbiana County, Ohio, has such a mill.
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