on Mills and Millers,
Interview with Theodore R. Hazen.
Questions by Lamont Pultz, a 5th grade student at Palmquist Elementary
in Oceanside, California.
Hazen: First of all, before I answer your questions,
lets set up some dates of time periods. When someone says "Colonial
America," or "Colonial Times," to me that means
when America was under the control of England. America was a British
colony. We were "peons" or "laborers" of England.
Like in "Early America," the best of our labor or products
were produced to be shipped back to England. We were as I said,
"peons" in a British colony, we where not citizens of
England proper, but citizens of a British colony which is very
different. We could not get a patent in England to protect our
inventions like a citizen of England. We were the "penal
colony" of England, before we gave them problems and people
were sent to Australia. So basically Colonial America would be
from 1680 to 1781 when the American Revolution ended. After that
we have the Federalist period in America, and things changed for
a number of reasons.
Modern times is basically when the French term "just now"
or "moderne" comes into popular usage. For this discussion,
I am going to set the dates of 1880 to the present.
1. What are the differences between
Colonial and modern Millers?
Hazen: Mills during this time were the way they were
hundreds of years before. Basically the technology of milling
had not changed for hundreds of years. A mill found in Colonial
Times was just like a mill in the 14th century, or hundreds of
During Colonial times people attitudes towards the miller began
to change. Once the miller was considered so dishonest, that they
could not own their own mills, form guilds (unions), set their
own prices or decide what to make. They had to rent their mills
from the landowner or landlord. In Medieval times this meant the
lord, abbott, or king. In Early America and during Colonial Times
you had to get a land grant to build a mill. This was a paper
signed by the King in England that you could build a mill here
in the Colonies.
During Medieval times you (as a peasant) had to take your grain
to the Lords, Abbotts, or Kings mill. The miller was just an employee
of the master. If you were found hiding a hand quern (a small
pair of millstones powered by hand to grind grain), they would
be taken and broken, and you hanged. A lot of people wanted to
set up the Feudal System in Early America.
A dishonest miller was a craftsman after all and much to valuable
to hang it he was found taking more than his far "toll"
or payment for grinding grain. The miller collected his toll and
the toll from the peasants for the lord, abbott, master or king.
Instead of hanging the miller they hanged his helper or apprentice.
Where did the miller learn his trade? During Colonial Times,
the miller learned his trade though the apprentice system. You
apprenticed to a master craftsman for 7 years to learn a trade.
You lived with him, and sometimes were mistreated. The master
whose word was law. The journeyman who could go and work as a
miller until he met the requirements to become a master in his
own right. The apprentice who had no rights, was basically an
When someone came to the mill, The art of the miller or the
millwright, is also part of the secrets of the craft. Basically
if I tell you, or you see me practicing my trade, I will have
to kill you! A craftsman who learned his craft though apprenticeship
did not practice his trade or craft in front of others or shared
that knowledge with others. This is the basic problem with interpretation
of historical sites like an old mill or Colonial Williamsburg.
The miller saw someone coming down the road, he turned off the
mill. The visitor, farmer, or customer did not see the mill operating,
or see anything apart. The mill told him to leave the grain, go
fishing, swimming, picnicking or ice skating on the mill pond,
but don't hang around here.
Millwrights were even more secretive. The spit of a millwright
was thought to be able to kill a toad. It was the millwright that
knew the secrets of different kinds of wood, and what wood was
best for making the various parts of the mill. Millstone dressers
knew how to dress millstones (regroove the stone like sharpening
a pair of scissors, or knife). Millwrights did not know how to
dress millstones or how to operate a mill. Only the miller knew
the grains and knew how to operate a mill.
It was all learned by the apprentice system, with no plans
or instruction books. Mills were like ships which were built by
using models and the grid system. Each model was a scale down
replica of the real thing. You capture an enemy vessel, the first
thing you did was take it apart, and build a model from the real
thing. The lord, abbott or king did not understand plans or drawings,
but they could see that money could be spend on building things
During Colonial Times, the millers apprentices were often his
children, boys and girls. Yes, there were lady millers and blacksmiths.
Not always did the miller have boys, and not always did girls
want to learn work of the house. Women have a better business
sense when it comes to working in a mill.
In Modern Times the flour miller learned his trade by going
to school. A person could go to a college to get a degree in milling
science. There were technical handbooks, trade catalogs and journals
in libraries, and many colleges had flour mills on campus to use
as working laboratories. Milling and baking became a science.
Someone observed that in the 1500's the baker had stolen the
costume of the miller. Basically dressed in white, with a low
flat brimless hat with an apron was the clothing of the miller.
A Modern miller also dresses in white to show that if he has a
clean appearance, perhaps the product that his mill produces is
also clean. Now a days, the flour miller, baker and the painter
all dress in the same costume. The white pants and white bib overhauls
are not called miller's pants, but painters pants.
In Colonial Times the miller did not have a means of cleaning
grain. The farmer could remove the chaff and mills were built
to remove hulls from buckwheat and oats. However, dirt, seeds,
fungus, smut, straw, sticks, manure, bugs, rodent droppings, were
all ground into a muddled mass. Then the miller sifted out by
hand the brown from the white. Brown is the color of dirt, and
white is the color of something clean. The fungus ergot found
in rye, and the same shape and color when it is mature (its purple
when it is immature) has the same chemical composition as LSD
if ground into flour, and baked into bread.
The floors in Colonial mills is where the grain and flour are
stored. A miller with mud on his boots would not thing twice about
stomping down flour into a barrel to pack the correct amount required
by law. In Colonial mills often the flour was taken to a boulting
(bolting) or sifting mill where the flour was sifted and a second
toll was taken for sifting. If no bolting mill was in the area
then the baker could sift the flour. A Modern mill does it all.
During Colonial Times the milling trade is full of superstitions.
Metal taunts the taste of flour, all things made in a mills should
be made from wood. These things include: grain shovels, scoops,
paddles, mallets, bin and chute rappers, cobweb chaser handles,
flour tampers, etc. It is ghosts, demons and evil spirits that
cause mills to blowup and hell-fire to happen. In Modern Times
we know that flour dust is more explosive than gun powder, and
35 times more explosive than coal dust.
In Colonial Times it is the "sack and bag" method
of flour milling. The miller carries sacks on his back, often
up narrow ladders though trap doors. He hoists sacks though trap
doors or on the outside of the mill to upper levels in a mill.
The miller and his helpers become covered with flour dust. The
miller's work station is in the mill's basement, where it is damp,
dark, and cold. The mildew covers everything in the mill. The
mildew will get you if you don't watch out. Bacterial meningitis
got into the miller's head and clouded up his mind just as if
was covered with flour dust. The miller had a "miller's cough"
from breathing in the flour dust which he suffered from white
lung. In Modern Mills we have dust system to exhaust the dust
from the mill, and reduce the problems with dust explosions. Modern
mills have covered lights and vacuuming cleaning system with spark
In Early America, the miller often lived in a part of the mill,
like back in Europe. During Colonial Times the miller lived in
a miller's house often across the road. The miller worked the
hours of daylight, mostly, a candles could burn down the mill,
and they did not know the cause yet of dust explosions. In Modern
Times the miller worked his shift, and others came to work the
mill after his on the other two shifts so the mill was operated
24 hours a day. A Modern Miller has moved into town in a large
house, often far removed from the mill. A modern miller may be
one of 30 to 60 employees. In a modern mill, the miller had people
who just cleaned, people who just oiled machinery, people who
just tightened leather belts, people who just replaced screens
on sifters, flour packers, people who worked in cleaning grains,
truck drivers, and worked in offices, etc.
In Early America, and Colonial Times, it was the miller's wife
who was the bakery tester for the products of the mill. In Modern
Times, the mill employed a chemist, and a professional baker so
they could test the grain for impurity levels, the flour for protein
and ash, the gluten levels and bakery test the flour.
In Early America, and Colonial Times, mills were powered by
wind, tidal power, and streams. In the time period between Colonial
Times and Modern Times, wind mills fell out of favor. Wind maybe
either not blowing or blowing too much. A wind miller has to be
a miller and a sailor because a windmill responds to the wind
like a sailing ship. Tidal mills fell out of favor, because tide
time changes, and the miller was always working on a moving schedule
according to the tides. During the in between time boat or floating
mills came from Central and Eastern Europe to the board rivers
of mainly Ohio. They require no dam to maintain and are movable
with the developing harvest.
Also during the time period between Colonial Times and Modern
Times, steam powered mills came into fashion. The Industrial Revolution
in the milling business happened in America rather than England,
even though England had the first steam powered mill, Albon Mills.
In Colonial Times grain was milled with the traditional millstone
method. However, in Modern Times the tried and true millstone
was replaced by steel rollers. Mills were powered in Modern Times
by metal water wheels, water turbines, steam power, and newer
forms of power.
In Early America, Colonial Times and Modern Times, most of
the people in the milling business (mill owners, millwrights,
millers, millstone dressers, grain dealers, flour inspectors,
etc.) were Quakers. Quakers were pacifists. Milling has been a
trade that has long been exempt from military service. Millers
could stay at home, and make flour for the war effort and soldiers.
Quakers also came up with the very radical idea of the time, "profit."
Originally people could only make and sell something only for
the cost of making it. Never any extra, to create capital. They
stopped grinding grain for locals, and farms, thus going into
commercial milling for export and for profit.
2. What is the average day
for a Miller like? What was the average day like for a Miller
in colonial times?
Hazen: The average day for the miller started in his
nightshirt in bed. He got up and tucked his nightshirt into his
pants and he was ready for the day. Most millers had shoes, but
some young kids or helpers in the mill might have no shoes to
wear while working. During Colonial Times the miller worked mainly
during the daylight hours. The first order of business, was to
carry a pail of milk to the mill's rodent control, the miller's
cat and kittens. It was a female cat and its kittens would have
a place to sleep somewhere in the mill, like a pile of cloth flour
If he was a water miller, then he would clean out the trash
rack across the head of the mill race. He used a long handle rake
to clean out floating debris that collected behind the wooden
slats of the rack. This was there to prevent debris from damaging
the water wheel. Then he would go to grease and lubricate the
If he was a wind miller, then he would go up to the slight
rise that the windmill was built on to see the horizon for upcoming
weather events. He would haul out of their storage place the cloth
canvas sails. Then they would be tied on to each sail arm one
at a time, gradually releasing the wind wheel break to allow the
wind mills sail arms to only turn a quarter of a turn. For one
thing the miller did not want it to get three sails to the wind.
It would not rotate properly and tare the windmill a part.
A water miller would begin by opening up the gate on the upper
end of the head race to allow the water to flow down to the gate
just behind the water wheel. The miller in any case, would inspect
his grain. Then he would either haul or hoist the grain up to
the floor above the mill, dump it into a bin so it could flow
down a chute to the millstone hopper above the millstones.
If the mill packaged its flour into wooden flour barrels, each
barrel holding 196 pounds as required by law, then they would
build a fire in the mill's basement fireplace to brand the barrel
heads with flour branding iron. "SF196," meant, 196
pounds of superfine flour. "GW196" meant, 196 pounds
of flour from George Washington's Mill on Dogue Run, Mount Vernon,
Virginia, the same as "TJ196" which meant, 196 pounds
of flour from Thomas Jefferson's mill as Shadwell, Virginia.
Millers up to modern times still used wooden flour barrels,
a shipping container which would last 25 years. After about 1910
they were gradually replaced by 100 cloth flour sacks. Now a days
flour is placed in paper sacks.
During Colonial Times, the miller ground the grain. He would
collect it in a tub, or place it into a large sack. It would either
be hoisted or carried to the attic level of the mill where it
would be dumped on the floor. Then it would be raked back and
forth with a rake to cool the moisture from it so it would not
stick in the mesh of the sifter cloth or wire screen. This job
was often preformed by one of the young miller's helpers or apprentices.
Then the flour was collected so it could be hand sifted. Afterwards
it was collected again, and dumped either into a bin or on the
floor so it could be aged to improve baking qualities, and for
it to naturally whiten.
The miller kept near the basement of the mill where the water
wheel shaft came into the mill with its wooden gears that turned
the millstones above. The millstone hoppers above the millstones
were filled by the apprentice while the miller listen to the machinery
The miller might run the mill more or less depending upon the
phase of the moon because he believed that the pull of the moon
made the water weigh more or less.
A wind miller would stop his windmill sails in different positions
as in different messages to his customers. One position mean that
he was waiting for people to bring their grain back in operation
soon, another mean that the miller was in mourning and would not
be running the mill today. One position meant that the miller
was gone for the day, and the last position meant that the miller
was in celebration or joy.
The wind miller knew how much sail to let to the wind. The
stronger the wind, the more sail was wrapped around itself exposing
less sail to be moved by the wind. The lighter the wind, the more
sail cloth the miller had let to the wind to catch the breeze.
If a rain storm came up the wind miller knew how much weight the
water added to the sail arms. If the rain suddenly froze, the
wind miller knew the fastest way to cut down the frozen canvas
sails before the added weight broke the sail arms (frames).
The miller worked until the last light of day, when the flames
died in the fireplace or the wax of the candles melted down low.
The miller told stories to keep people from coming around the
mill at night to discover his secrets, like how he practiced his
trade. The miller would tell people don't go down to the mill
at night. What is there, water spirits, and water spirits can
be dangerous. A mill might have a brownie living in it to protect
it from harm. Stories of the old haunted mill go back to when
millers did not want people coming around to see them practice
their trade. The millstones may be only uncovered at night and
the itinerant millstone dresser may only dress them at night by
candle light. A dishonest miller might have an extra hidden chute
that came from the millstones so he could gradually steal part
of the customers grain. The miller's mite was the flour that fell
though the cracks in the floor boards or flour that would remain
around the millstone cover that was carefully removed at the end
of each day so the miller could collect more than his fair share.
The miller and his helpers would go home covered with flour
dust. A miller with natural hair color would go off to work in
the morning, and return home with hair as white as snow which
was covered with a fine layer of flour dust.
3. What is standard Mill equipment
and how does it function?
Hazen: Standard milling equipment is the millstone.
You have a bottom stationary millstone and an upper turning or
revolving millstone. The grain falls down though a hole or eye
in the center of the upper millstone. On the surface of each millstone
is grooves or lines called furrows. The farmer puts furrows in
his fields to grow the grain, and the miller has the millstone
dresser put furrows in the millstone surface to cut the grain.
Each millstone looks identical so when they are put together and
the upper one revolves the furrows cross each other and cut the
grain like a pair of scissors. The millstones should never touch,
and may be 3/8ths of an inch apart down to a paper's thickness
4. How have Mills changed from
colonial times until now?
Hazen: At one time a person got his name from where
he lived or what he did. The name miller is the sixth most common
name in America. Today, someone with the name miller may have
never walked into a mill in their life or know the first thing
about how they work. This is why there are so many Smiths because
of all the people who worked with different types of metal.
One change is now grain is made from stone millstones to steel
rollers. Originally most of the machinery was wooden, now most
of it is metal and plastic.
Another change is the mills were originally operated by the
senses of the miller: sound, sight, touch, vibration, and smell.
Now the computer from the miller's head has become a real computer
that tells his the exact moisture level in grain, flour, and can
count amounts of grain at each place in the milling process.
Amount of grain has changed. A traditional millstone depending
upon its diameter can grind between 300 to 500 pounds of grain
in an hour. In a Modern mill they can grind between 125 to 600
thousand pounds every 24 hours.
Originally grain came and went from the mill by horse, mule,
donkey, ox cart, and horse and wagon. In Modern times it is moved
by canal boats, ships, railroad, and tractor trailers.
Mills were in Early America, and Colonial Times covered with
dust, and cobwebs. Cats were the mill's main form of rodent control.
In England, up until the 1850's or so, a rat catcher was a human
occupation. Modern mills have dust collectors and climate control.
Originally, there was only soft or English wheat in Early America,
and Colonial Times, now millers have access to all of the types
of wheat grown all over the world. One thing has remained the
same, corn has no export value as corn meal, unless it is in the
form of corn flakes, or corn chips.
During the period of Early America, and the Colonial Times,
the millers tossed out the middlings and the bran often into the
mill stream. It was considered waste. The stuff that attracted
insects, rodents, spoiled, mildewed, turned rancid, is now considered
the better stuff containing the fiber and the nutritional elements.
Mills originally used natural renewable forms of power, such
as wind, water and tidal power. How a days, they use modern forms
of power that relay on fossil fuels.
Children are no longer the main labor force working in the
flour mill, which was subject to getting hurt or killed in greater
numbers than the adults working there. They would drown or suffocate
in room size bins full of grain, or get their clothing wrapped
around turning machinery. This was the problem with girls or the
miller's daughter working in a mill wearing long dresses.
Flour is still not a control substance. World War One spy school
would teach you how to level any building using only a bean can
full of flour, and a tuna fish can of gasoline. Flour dust makes
great compression bombs and can be used to power diesel engines.
The product has remained the same, which is flour, a food stuff.
Originally you knew who the miller was and he took pride in his
craft. Modern millers are just another anonymous factory worker.
Once flour was packaged into sacks or flour barrels by hand, now
it is mass packaged and sealed by machines on an assembly line
Which flour was better? Colonial flour where the miller did
not have the means of cleaning impurities from the grain before
he milled it, or modern flour where the milling system removed
12 natural nutrients and replaces them with four artificial chemicals.
In Colonial Times you might get a sack of flour that was made
from mildewed grain. Now a days, it is produced so every bag is
just like the other sack, no mater if it raining outside, winter,
summer, harvest time, or has been stored too long in a mill to
be still ground into flour with maintained quality. The sacks
of flour that we buy from a supermarket may have an old mill on
the bag, but it is more than likely made in a modern factory,
far removed from that old mill icon image.
on Mills and Millers Update.
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