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Manufacture of Flour.



When a grain of wheat is cut across the middle, and examined under a glass, the central parts are found to be composed of a white substance. If the grain is dry, this interior readily becomes a pearly powder. Near the outside of the kernel the texture is more compact, and at the surface it becomes horny. This added firmness of the grain is produced by the increasing quantity of gluten, as the analysis advances from centre to circumference. It is necessary to understand this composition of wheat in order to know what makes the best flour, and how the inferior grades of the same article are composed. It is the gluten that gives flour its strongest constituents; that is to say, the nature of gluten is similar to that of meat or cheese, while the nutritive power of starch alone is no more than that of rice. In short, rice flour is wheat flour with gluten left out. In. wheat flour the proportion of gluten to starch is as one to five, and in some cases, as one to four. The greater or less quantity of gluten in flour renders it more or less nutritious ; that is, the flour is more or less effective according to its quantity of gluten. That wheat which is grown in a dry and clear atmosphere, and on a fresh and strong soil, contains the greatest quantity of gluten. The best of our wheats are those raised in California and Oregon. The summer of these states is long and uniform, and allows the grain to ripen perfectly. Such is the freedom of these localities from moisture that the grain is left in the field, piled in bags one upon another, and covered with a layer of straw, for several months after it is threshed. It thus becomes perfectly ripe and dry, and able to bear transportation across the equator without injury to its quality.

In appearance this wheat is plump, smooth, and of a pale amber color, like that of a delicately baked loaf of bread. It is sown in the fall, about the time of the first hard frosts. It generally springs a few inches above the ground, and in that condition goes through the winter, making but little advance, and starting into luxuriant and rapid growth in April. The wheat harvest, in countries where wheat is the staple, commences in the middle of May and June, and lasts about thirty days before the grain becomes so ripe as to shell in handling. The chief characteristic of wheat that grows in dry climates is, that the gluten becomes perfectly dry aud hard; that is, the grain is thoroughly ripe, and the gluten, which forms the sticky part of the flour, will bear transportation to great distances, and keeping for many months, yet be as good as it was when first harvested. The Richmond flours were for a long time noted for this quality, and until the great development of the west, Richmond was the leading city in the production of the first grades of flour. Their wheats grew in West Virginia, East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and Georgia. The greater portion of Richmond flour is used in Cuba and the South American cities, because it bears transportation and keeps in hot climates for- a year or two without injury, while the western wheats must be kept cool, and should be consumed within a few months after they are ground.

At present the greater part of this commodity is produced in those states which border^the great western rivers. The amount of wheat grown in New England will not bread its population a month. The western part of New York is a fine wheat locality, and Genesee flour long had celebrity, but so great is the population of the Empire State that all the wheat grown in it would not feed its population more than half a year. The State of Pennsylvania is, in this respect, a pattern, blending consumption with production in equal proportion. The Keystone State supplies itself with flour, but has no surplus. Until within a few years Ohio has furnished two or three million bushels surplus ; but her production has fallen off very much, until she consumes nearly all the wheat grown within her limits. When we go west of the Wabash, we come to states that produce a very large surplus. The wheat crops of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota frequently reach the immense product of twenty million bushels, and the wheat crop of California ranges from eighteen to twenty-two millions. The grain of the Pacific slope, after supplying its own population, is almost wholly exported to Liverpool, but the grain of the western states is stored in the great western cities of Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, and Toledo. The handling of these great quantities of wheat is performed by means of elevators, which it may be interesting and pertinent to describe.

From the field where the wheat is threshed it is carried in bags to the nearest railroad station, and poured into cars made expressly for transporting it, whose capacity is about three hundred bushels apiece. Thence it is rolled to the elevator, a building six or seven stories high, where it is inspected by an officer appointed for the purpose, and classed in its appropriate grade. Of this more hereafter. The doors of the cars are then rolled back, and the wheat which pressed against them falls into a large hopper beneath. Two or three stout laborers with grain shovels step into, the car, and in a few minutes its contents are all transferred to the hopper below. This receptacle has a bottom sloping to one side, through which, over a pulley, a large baud passes, which goes over another pulley in the top of an elevator. This band has brackets of tin fastened on it which contain about half a bushel apiece. As the baud passes through the hopper these buckets fill themselves, and are dra'wn very rapidly up the elevator, discharging the grain into the loft above as fast as it can be shovelled into the hopper from the car. From the buckets it passes into a large receptacle or bin, which contains from two to three tons. Here it is weighed, and thence conducted through spouts to other bins, grades of the same kind being kept in the same receptacle. These bins arc twenty or thirty feet square and fifty or sixty feet deep. From these bins Bpouts go down to the holds of vessels or to cars, and the wheat descends with great rapidity, so that the hold of a vessel of two hundred and fifty tons will be filled in two hours.

As we have remarked, before the wheat is removed from the car in which it is transported to the elevator, it is inspected by the proper officer. He divides it into four grades. That which is sound, plump, and well cleaned, goes into the first grade. The second grade is sound and plump, but not so clean as the first. In the third grade is classed wheat inferior or dirty, but not so badly damaged as to render it unfit for flouring, nor weighing less than fifty-five pounds. All wheat so badly damaged as, from any cause, to render it unfit for number three, is put into a fourth grade. and termed "rejected." From the elevator the wheat is carried by ship or by rail to the various establishments where it is made into flour.

Most of the southern wheat is brought to Richmond and Baltimore, where it is ground into flour. Along the banks of the James River there are a number of large flouring establishments. Baltimore is another large flour centre. About one half of the western wheat is converted into flour near where it grew, and much of the other half comes east by lake and rail to be ground at Toledo, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, and Oswego. Several million bushels of wheat are made into flour in the cities along the Erie Canal, and especially at Rochester. For instance, in 1869 Chicago sent east nearly three million barrels of flour, at the same time she shipped eight million bushels of wheat to Buffalo.

The development of railroads and steamboats has dispensed almost entirely with the use of bags in handling the wheat crop. The car or vessel containing wheat passes at once to the flouring mill, where the grain is lifted directly by means of an elevator into the loft of the mill. From this loft it is conducted through a tube to the spout, whence it pours into the hopper, where it is ground. At the end of this spout is a fanning-wheel, which throws a strong blast of air up through the spout, thus permitting only the heavy and sound grain to fall into the hopper. All chaff and light grain is blown up outside the spout and falls on the floor. By shortening this tube at its lower section the grain can be thoroughly winnowed, while by lengthening it the lighter grain will fall with the heavy into the hopper.

The stones used in grinding are called French burr stones, though they arc found in Arkansas, and in other parts of this country. . In some flouring mills stoel-faced stones are used, but they make a flour inferior to that produced by the French burr. From the receptacle into which the flour falls from the stones it is carried at once to the bolt. This is a large cylinder, usually eight sided, covered with bolting cloth, and made to revolve. It is set at an angle so that at the upper end of the bolt only the finest of the flour passes through the cloth. At the middle more of the bran goes through with the flour, and is therefore termed middlings, and at the lower end of the bolt the bran falls through. After passing through the bolt the flour is carried by small elevators into the meal room, and falls from quite a height on a clean floor, where it is allowed to cool. It is then packed in barrels and shipped. One hundred and ninety-six pounds is put in each barrel. If the flour is packed before it has had time to cool perfectly its quality is materially injured.

The flour made from the best California or amber Michigan wheat is of a very delicate cream tint, just turned from white, and if pressed firmly in the hand will remain in a ball, retaining the impress of the fingers. When spread evenly in the hand, and smoothed with an ivory spatula, it presents a uniform and polished surface.

From the mill the flour is shipped to various points, where it is inspected by officers appointed for the purpose. If it is of full weight, strictly sound, and free from any and every defect or fault causing either smell or taste, it is called " sound," and is branded by the inspector according to its grade. Standard samples of flour are used for the inspector to work to, and the flour is branded " extra " and " superfine," according to its correspondence with these samples; they are in the hands of the flour inspection committee, and also with the secretary of the board of trade. These officers are required to see that the rules established for the inspection of flour are not varied from by the inspector. Flour made from wheat that has been mixed with a noxious weed, imparting to it an unpleasant smell, is termed weedy. This weed, it is supposed, will " cook out," so as not to be tasted in the bread; but such flour is inferior, and can never be formed into loaves of first quality in appearance, nutrition, or flavor. All flour not "sound," or " weedy," whether its defects are derived from the condition of the wheat, or have originated in the flour, is termed " unsound." The inspectors note the character of the unsound- ness as musty, hard sour, soft sour, slightly unsound, the latter indicating that, for immediate use, the flour is but slightly depreciated in value. No "unsound," "weedy," or "lightweight" flour can be stencilled in any way by the inspectors. Success in the flouring business depends on the judgment with which purchases of wheat are made, and the skill with which low grades of grain are cleaned and mixed with the better sorts so as to produce fair flour.

"The Great Industries of the United States: Being An Historical Summary of the Origin, Growth, and Perfection of the Chief Industrial Arts of this County," by Leon Case, Horace Greeley, Edward Howland, John B. Gough, Philip Ripley, F. B. Perkins, J. B. Lyman, Albert Brisbane, Rev. E. E. Hall, and other eminent writers upon political and social economy, merchants, manufactures, etc., etc.

With over 500 Illustrations

Hartford: The J. B. Burr Publishing Company, 1872, 1873, & 1874.

Manufacture of Flour from pages 994 to 998.

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Copyright 2009 by T. R. Hazen.