Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Page Begins Here

Artifacts Found in Early American Mills, making it look more like a real mill.

Please be patient this page has "A LOT" of images to load.
It should take 3 minutes, 30 seconds to load the entire page. Thank you.

Artifacts Found in Early American Mills,
making it look more like a real mill.
Theodore R. Hazen

Is everything found in today's restored mills really belong in a mill in the first place?
During different time periods you would find different sort of artifacts in a mill.

The wooden Bottle Weights are missing from the Lighter Staffs along with the meal bins in front of the Millstone Chutes. Gone also are the Twist Pegs and Crock Strings that controls the adjustment height of the shoe that regulates the grain being fed into the millstones. When the mill was operating the leather would be replaced, but once the mill became abandoned between 1870 and 1879, anything that is attached by Leather Straps will disappear and fall off in time. To the right of the window it looks like even a pair of basement steps are missing.

Lefferts Tide Mill, a.k.a. Van Wyck Mill, Huntington Harbor, Southdown Rd., Huntington, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, completed circa 1795. Black and white photo from HABS.

Artifacts Found in Early American Mills, making it look more like a real mill.
Theodore R. Hazen

When mill stops operating the machinery sometimes is removed, and taken to other mill. Smaller items not attached often disappear sometimes being carried away by kids, or it might be removed by souvenir collectors (sometimes family members) or even so-called mill buffs. Everything from scoops, paddles, scales, shovels, grain probes, hand trucks, often disappear. When they are left alone and abandoned, mills can become sterile environments. For some people tend to see the larger picture and not the small details. They restore the buildings and the machinery, and not what was or should be in them. The project either runs out of steam, sometimes out of money, or time, and in many mill restorations that can even cost millions. It is bad enough that many architectural award winning mill restorations that cost millions installed millstones with furrows laid out backwards.

One of the1930's restoration drawing for Peirce Mill, Rock Creek Park,
Washington, D.C., done by the Fitz Water Wheel Company, Hanover, Pa.
It is a great drawing, but it does not provide information such as:
what was in the mill at the time of restoration, and what they installed
that came from other mills of the same time period.
The daily props that are used in the operation of the mill are not considered or listed.

So in the process many of the details get left out. You have to go beyond the read between the lines of old milling books to know enough about the details. These are the loose items that break, wear out, come and go with the changes in technology, or just are walked away with after the mill stops operation even by flood waters. Unless you know what you were looking at in the drawings of "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," you would never know about bottle weights begin hung on the ends of leather straps that are wrapped around the handle ends of the lighter staffs. Just in the passing of time operating the mill, the leather straps would break, the bottle weight sometimes comes off, and they have to be repaired to keep them in as they originally were. I found a bottle weight once that hand fallen to the mill's basement because the leather rotted, and with the next flood that would came along, it would have become history. Artifacts and props are one of the most important things in being able to interpret the operation of a restored mill.

Most people don't realize that the corner basement fireplace was not intended for heat, light, cooking or the miller's comfort. The miller would not light a fire to ward off the cold or provide light in the dark basement. These fireplaces were used for heating branding irons for barrel heads. When mills went to using stencils and ink, the old fireplaces became forgotten icons of former days and how the mill actually functioned. Branding Irons were used for a long time because they believed that ink or paint would contaminate the flour through the seams in the barrel head, so they used branding irons, much like cattle branding irons. They often were simple saying only "SF 196." The words "SF" meant "superfine," and the 196 mean the weight of the flour contained within the barrel regulated by laws. George Washington that shipped his flour in barrels to the West Indies his branding irons said, "G.W. 196." The "G.W." of course in this case meant George Washington, as "T.J. 196" would mean Thomas Jefferson. After branding irons disappeared round brass stencils came into usage, and then paper labels glued onto the barrel heads. Barrels were used mainly by merchant mills and then later used by roller mills.

The Village Cooper, R. Raiselis at the Dinsmore woodworking shop
at Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Barrels that were used in the mill to be fulled with flour were called "dry" coopers. These would have split ash hoops that were bend around the barrel and locked into itself thus forming a hoop. They were used with things that were dry such as flour, salt, sugar, gunpowder, tobacco, etc. They were used because there was not the same problem that a "wet" cooper that would have in swelling the wood and beginning to leak. They could be rolled around the mill by one person without the worry of the metal hoops striking a nail head and causing a spark that could be disastrous for everyone and everything. Old whiskey or wine barrels are cheaper and easier to come by but should be only used for mill and visitor trash.

A barrel head tool.

A good miller would know if they left any candles unattended in the building because it might burn down the mill. So he had the blacksmith forge sharp spikes that could be pounded into wood or a barrel head. The other end of the sharp spike would have either a sharp point so that the base of a candle could be pushed onto it, or a round shallow cup that would hold a candle base. A similar device was used later to hold the very early railroad candles and flares to the railroad ties to warn approaching trains. There were different kinds of hooks that the blacksmith made that could be pounded into wood beams or hung over beams that could hold candles. By the time that oil lighting could have been used in mills they beginning to suspect about the explosive nature of flour dust and lighting remained natural until electric lights came along. When mills originally blew up from a dust explosion, hell fire happened. They attributed this to demonic forces because the air would fill up with flame and there was no way in hell that anyone would ever get out alive. However it seemed that more mills burned down from being struck by lighting than by other means, supernatural or by human carelessness.

Brooms and hand brushes were standard items found in every mill that would do some sort of regular cleaning. Housekeeping depended upon the mill owner or the miller. Some mills cleaned daily, and others never wasted the time in cleaning, or they cleaned the mill once a year to remove the buildup and insect infestations. An accurate restored mill would be covered with interpretive trash, dust, grain and cobwebs everywhere but that would not go over too well with modern health standards. A good miller never throws anything out because he will always find a use for it. Besides saving wood for bearings and blocks to hold millstones when they are being dressed the miller also would save worn out broom handles. They were used to tie rags on to make cobweb catchers, but sometimes long poles were used instead. Besides a cobweb catcher the miller would use a length of rope with a rag tied on the middle of the rope to play tug-a-war in cleaning out the inside of chutes. The miller also cut them into about 18 to 24 inch lengths to use as rappers to pound on the outside of bins and chutes to get the clogs and the flow moving once again. Sometimes they hung a wooden mallet on a nail near a bin or chute that would regularly clog up. The early mills that just ground soft wheat flour everything from the chute leading from underneath the millstone cover to around the millstones themselves. It was very prone to clogging from the wheat that had the least bit of too much moisture content it became very prone to clogging chutes and bolting screens. The larva of the meal worms were born in spidery webs that the miller's moth butterfly would lay its eggs in that could fill and clog meal chutes. The butterflies instinctively knew that the meal worms would have plenty to eat with from the meal that would catch on the same webs that bore the larvae from the eggs.

Every miller who kept all of his fingers also knew to use these sticks to get jammed elevator cups and belts moving again. It is better to use a stick than loosing some of your fingers. These sticks often were found with cords tied through the ends that had holes drilled so they could be hung up around the mill and would make them more handy when needed. They could be easily hung on nails pounded into beams or posts. They also became useful items to have and were used as twisters to add in pulling two ropes together that were wrapped around both free ends of a broken elevator belt. Gradually they would twist the rope together to take up the tension so they could be laced or bolted tight. These short sticks could be used in place of a broom handle to ad in removing a moving belt or to assist in placing a leather belt onto moving pulleys. Every miller who has tried to use the claw of a hammer can tell you if you don't do it correctly or drop the hammer while you are doing it, you often end up with the hammer bouncing off your forehead.

Broom handles also were used to make wooden control handles that were hung on long cotton ropes though a series of holes drilled on each floor from values found on spouting swells in upper stories of the mill. A hole was either drilled or burned though the center of a section of wood to form a hand hold, and the rope slid though the hole and knotted underneath to keep it in place. This was part of the applications of Oliver Evans improvements in milling, the miller could just step over and change the flow of material from one direction to another without having to climb a series of stairs or ladders.

A miller would have leather lacing strips, several size hole punches and a good knife (with a cutting edge like a mat knife) to cut the end of the belting square in the beginning process of belting lacing. Then later alligator clip lacing was used where you pounded in the alligator clip jaws into both sides of the end of a leather belt. Once that was done a section of cat gut was used to slid between the interlocking metal loops together. After that wire staples were used with a staple press, but forms of metal lacing was of the modern era. It is almost a lost art knowing how to hand lacing leather belts but I know from experience that leather lacing is much better and stronger than the metal lacing, and this also includes gluing.

A pair of wooden scoops.

Originally the miller would have carved grain and flour scoops out of wood. Then they were made out of a combination of wood and metal. These scoops had a wooden rod or piece of a broom handle placed in a hole and nailed into a half round circle of wood. On the cure of the circle was tacked a piece of tin that formed the shovel end of the scoop. Over time it could be trimmed back when it was torn, curled down, wore down and then eventually replaced to make it usable again. Like the millwright that fabricated everything about the mill, the miller often made his own tools. Later commercial made scoops were made and sold. Meal bin paddles that looked much like a painters pallet were used to move the meal to one side of the meal bin and to pick it up and pour it into a sack or barrel. They were most often made out of walnut, and would have a thumb hole and a long curved fingers hole. The end of the paddle was drawn to a point like a shovel blade. In time they often would warp because of the dampness in the meal or from the dampness in the basement, and from the flooding regularly of the mill's basement. When they broke or wore down they could be easily replaced. Some millers used them until they became almost worn away and they shape drastically changed. They were like leather belting you only replaced it until it broke or would not stay on. Some millers used the paddles in place of scoops, and some mills never had paddles and used only scoops. Modern metal aluminum scoops are sold commercially today in farm feed stores. Originally they had wooden handles but the handles have been replaced by metal. In a pinch a scoop can be made by the cutting off the bottom end of plastic bottles or jugs that have a hand hold near the bottle cap. Then they can be used as used as a scoop but fold or bend more easily than a metal scoop blade. Commercial scoops even were made large enough to hold a bushel measure that was used by two hands.

A commercially made metal grain scoop.

A walnut paddle from a Pennsylvania mill.

Every mill would have different types and sizes of paddles. There were ones used in flour and meal bins, bolter bottom hoppers, and in greasing gears and cogs. Flour machinery companies and others that sold only bolting cloth and screen passed out small (usually made of metal) hand held scrapers. They could be used in bolters for cleaning the screens, removing caked on build-ups, and for scraping down the reel surface clean when applying new bolting screen and webbing. Sometimes they are found with a small round magnifying glass (used to count opening in bolting screen) in the round hang up hold hole. Often when removed from the mill they would become sold as flour dough scrapers by mistake. That is not to say that flour milling companies did not hand out premiums with sacks of flour, but these pot, pan and work surface scrapers usually assumed different shapes and have more pronounced commercial labeling of the flour milling company rather than the supplier. There were also testing rings or small hand sifters that could hold a variety of different size mesh bolting screen or cloth.

A metal "flour trier" or scraper with a small round magnifying glass
given out by "The Roller Mill" magazine.

A "flour trier" or scraper made by the Wolf Company,
Flour Mill Machinery Company, Chambersbury, Pennsylvania.
The Wolf Company logo is on the top handle end,
"Nothing runs like a Wolf."

A wooden grain shovel.

The millers also would have had grain shovels that were constructed out of a single piece of wood. I have a book that tells you how to carve and make wooden shovels that were used in mills and other industries like the storage of apples. They were cut and carved out of a single piece of wood. Originally all scoops, shovels, paddles and other items were made out of wood that came into contact with grain or flour. They believed for a long time that metal tainted the taste of flour. This superstition turned out to be a good thing because in this way there was no metal to strike the nail head and accidentally make a spark. In this way a superstition lessened the accidental chance of a dust explosion, that brought about hell fire and the end of everything in and about the mill. Sometimes these wooden scoops are found with metal patch repairs covering weak or cracked areas.

Another all wooden grain shovel.

Pounding blocks, wood blocks made out of the same material as the wooden wedges were found inside of the mill. Sometimes they had wooden handle holds and could be mistaken for a mallet. It is better to hold a pounding block by a handle than to miss and hit your hand. After all the inside of water wheels were wet and slippery while gears were often found areas with little lighting where it was easy to miss.

Bag holders, every mill has one, or at least every restored mill was often thought that they should have them. They are found around a great number of mills, but very few are actually used or does anyone really know how to use them. The look like a small one half of a oxen's yoke that goes around his head to harness him to pull something. It is made out of a curved bent round piece of wood that is formed into a half round circle. Then its two free ends are placed in a single piece of wood. That looks like half of an oxen yoke. They were used with cloth and cotton sacks. The sack holder is held in the air and the open end of a sack placed though the inside of the hoop, and the end of the sack is folded back like folding up your sleeve cuff one time. Then it was placed on to two strips of wood that would rest on the mouth of an open barrel. Then it could be used to catch tailings from a bin sifter sieve or screen. It can also be used underneath a chute that does not have a sack boy on the end below the gate. As the sack filled it expanded and became full inside of the barrel and still could be pulled out when completely full. The full sack below is tied with string to close the sack and the sack or bag holder then removed. Some bag holders would have nail points on the two ends of the straight strip to help hold the sack in place from slipping off as it became heavy with material.
For images of a sack holder see: Curatorial Items found in an average Grist Mill circa 1840-70, A Drawing of a Sack Holder #1.

Sack-boys are similar to a hopper-boy in that it was work that was once performed by a young boy or child. A sack boys main job in a mill is to replace a full sack with empty one when they became full during the mills operation. Metal sack boys are made by using small curved upward hooks that are screwed on the end of the chute or by using small nails without any heads. Then you have a hook as to wrap the open end of a sack around a chute and the sack can be then used to catch bran or other material. The sack could be quickly changed when filled, faster than using any other method of holding a sack. Some mills (mainly German built) would have short leather belts and buckles hung from behind the chute used like holding up ones pants with a leather belt.

A large beam scale that can hold a flour barrel.
Frame Grist Mill, Rt. 30, Ringoes, Hunterdon County, NewJersey.
The black and white photo from HABS.
There is a detailed drawing of this steelyard and the mill's machinery.

Beam scales, large ones and smaller ones were the rule before platform and spring scales were found in mills. Early mills used beam scales to hang sacks of grain and to tally the weight of customer's grain. I should mention tally boards. Tally board were used because they needed no chalk or slate. They were simple boards with a series of holes and wooden pegs that could be placed into different holes. They could be hung on the sides of vertical posts or on a table, stool or sit on a barrel. They could be used to count sacks, pounds of any standard weight amount or measurement. They could be used as a form of abacus. The were often removed and with their pegs lost, and their actual function forgotten. Most often someone would think they were unrelated to the operation of the mill and that they were only simple board games made to amuse the miller or his customers waiting for grain to be ground. Later tally boards became conversion charts and actual simple calculators that could figure the correct toll or conversion from eared corn to shelled corn.

Small beam scales could be hung near the meal bins and weigh sacks full of products. They could be taken down and used elsewhere in the mill or just locked up for safe keeping. They came in the form of larger beams that held a square hanging platform that could hold a barrel. Some large beam scales were also hung from the ceiling and held the receiving hopper that weighted the receiving grain and then by opening a gate on the bottom of the hopper dump it in to a chute that feed an elevator or grain sink which served the same purpose. These wonderfully made beam scales could even be found in roller mills hung from the ceiling holding a weighting bin and clicking away a set weight on a counter. The platform and truck scales still measure the weight along a beam but they use a system of springs and a platform to hold the weight rather than it be hung from one side of the beam. Many a times the farmer would take processed meats, cheeses or maple syrup that was sold originally by the pound, to be weighted by the miller's scales because he knew he would get an accurate weight.

Rakes were found in the mill not to rake leaves around the mill. They were originally used like shovels to rake freshly ground flour back and forth to cool it before Oliver Evans invented his hopper-boy. Long handle rakes were used to clean the leaves from trash racks, along with long metal rods that often had a loop or handle end and a hook on the other end for larger debris.

A very rare item to find in a mill is a "Dancing Miller." It like a wooden limb jointed lumber jack, that is hung by its own miller's willow from the wooden horse frame and stands on the millstone cover or vat. Normally the miller stands there quietly will the mill grinds away, but when the millstones become in need of being balanced and leveled, the dancing miller will begin to twitch and even dance. The move the millstones are in need of work, the more the dancing miller will dance to draw someone's attention. Then it is time to give the devil his dew, stop the mill and balance and level the millstones. You have to wonder if they were mainly there and used for the entertainment of young visitors and mill cats. Every miller that is worth his salt would know by his senses that the millstones needed to be balanced.

Corn cobs become a problem around a mill. You can only grind a small percentage into different animal feeds. It they become wet they will start to mold and decay. They are mainly used as fire starters. They are easily lit, burn with a very hot flame (hot enough to get coal burning and they leave very little ash. Corn cobs used as file handles or on the end of long wooden dowels to become back scratchers. Besides being made into pipes, they also became dolls and scrubbers and even served as millstone bearing blocks in rural mountain mills.

Mill picks and mill bills along with wooden handles called thrifts were used to dress the millstones. The millstone dressing tools are mentioned in another part of this web site so I won't discuss them in detail on this page. The miller or millstone dresser would always have a number of cut blocks, either 6 by 6, 8 by 8 and or 12 by 12, that were used to rest a millstone on when it was lifted off the millstone spindle. These blocks along with thin pieces of would were often stored underneath stairs. Many mills had a corner of the mill that was not used for machinery or storage, were a work bench could be found that hand a bench vice. The miller sometimes kept his hand tools there. Here the miller would punch holes in the ends of leather belts, he repaired tin and wooden elevator cups, and tried to keep his tools in one place. The miller would have a tact hammer to replace bolter screen and cloth, a regular hammer, screw driver, perhaps a Yankee screw driver, mallets, and other hand tools. Some place the grease bucket and paddle for greasing gears and cogs would be stored and kept, or perhaps in the gear pit were it was used. The proof staff and paint staff along with the trammel were usually kept near the millstones were they were regularly used and there was no need to carry them else were in the mill because they were used no where else. Sometimes the paint staff was hung on a beam near the millstones. The millstone dressing tools were often found laid on a cross beam of the framework of the building near the millstones or they could be hung from leather straps on a vertical post near the millstones or on the millstone crane.

A round wooden toll dish that has metal strips tacked to it for strength.

Another item that seems to disappear from every mill is the toll dish, grain or toll measure. They may walk away with the last operator of a mill or by relatives who want to remember them when they used it in the mill. A toll dish may be either a round wooden bucket or cooper, or a square box of shallow wooden bowel. Some mills used a bin paddle as a toll dish that could be scooped into a bin full of meal. The miller made a science out of taking the toll by drilling holes to cover the paddle and what was lifted and remained on the paddle belonged to the miller.

A round wooden grain measure.

Another round wooden grain measure.

Smaller items found in a mill were a large sewing needle and string to sew cloth bags and holes in bags shut. Cotton or burlap cord was used to close sacks using a "miller's knot." To cut bundles of cord either the mill's wood ax was used on a chopping block or a curved blade was hung on the side of a post to cut the string at the desired length.

The old (English) miller standing at the doorway of his mill,
holding his thrift with its bill, and to the left is his temse.
Old photo from The History of Corn Milling, by Richard Bennett and John Elton,
4 volumes, reprint Burt Franklin, New York, 1964, Research and Source Works Series #74.

I need to mention hand sifters or as they are know by their traditional name of temse. This is a hand sieve for dressing flour to make it fine, in hand sifting. Traditionally they are round wooden sifters with cloth weave or wire screen. This type of sifter goes back to Roman times. The Romans had seven grades that they would sift out of ground wheat, so they had several mesh sizes of woven cloth and reed grasses. It reminds me, once we wanted to put linseed oil on the floors of an early nineteenth century log cabin to preserve them. The person in charge of the interpreters said, prove that they would have had linseed oil. I said there were several linseed oil mills in America in the 1600's and the Romans had linseed oil, it that good enough?

A flour sifter or temse.

A mill would have several hand sifters with different size mesh for sifting different materials out of the grind. This is one of the oldest methods of sifting or bolting flour. I have made them but it is easier to make and construct square sifters, for one thing bins are square and not round. You found them being used as decoration on walls other than mills, like winnowing baskets are also displayed. Later companies that sold bolting screen and cloth would make sets of small round (usually metal) testing hand sifters. They either came with one round side with a removable ring that could hold on different circular pieces with different meshes, or came in a set of hand sifters with different meshes already set into them. These little test sifters were not intended for the production of flour. The idea being that if the miller wanted to produce a new product, all he had to do is use the test hand sifters and once he found one he wanted order the size mesh for his larger bolter. This became important with the roller mill's gradual reduction system where you might have a lot of very fine mesh bolting cloths.

A warning bell with the hopper, shoe and damsel in the Ancaster Mountain Mill,
Ontario, Canada, from a b&w photo taken in the 1970's.

Warning bells. Yes, warning bells were found in early American mills. I have seen then in windmills and in early mills found in Westmoreland, to Bedford, Fulton, into Perry County, Lancaster, Berks and Bucks Counties in Pennsylvania, and south into Carroll County, Maryland. Warning bells were mainly used to tell the miller that the hopper above the millstones was getting low on grain. A mill in Carroll County, Maryland has a warning bell that told the miller that the barrel was full. A modern version of the warning bell is an electric sensor used on the hopper's of Meadow's Mills that shuts off the motor when it no longer senses being covered in grain. They can be set on a time delay shut down for after the sensor trips in and realizes it is time to stop the mill.

Some warning bells worked off the turning motion of the damsel as found in some windmills. Others rang from the turning of the vertical shaft that rose up between the millstones. A large heavy leather piece made out of shoe sole leather was attached to a leather cord that would hold down the free hinged end of a lever. When the grain in the hopper would become low, the weight of the bell on the other end of the lever would pull out the leather cord causing the bell to drop down and be rung by flutes or raised pegs placed into the turning vertical shaft.

A warning bell that warns the miller when the millstone hoppers are running empty.
This warning bell device is located in the Grist Mill at Lobachsville, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

When I worked at Peirce Mill, I installed one between the two millstone that I regularly used. It was modeled after one that was there in the 1930's when the Fitz Water Wheel Company restored the mill. Perhaps it was either in place in the the J. A. Baldwin Mill in Burnt Cabins, Pennsylvania, or the Baughman's Mill near Linesboro, Maryland, were the bulk of the machinery came from. This warning bell was very similar to the warning bell system found in Milling Consultant Steven Kindig's Grist Mill at Lobachsville, Berks County, Pennsylvania. In Steve Kindig's mill, which is a typical mill of the area, there are three millstones clustered around a central vertical post and each has its own warning bell.

Peirce Mill's original warning bells were simple devices. If you face the millstones on the back right corner of the hopper on the floor is a hole the same side as the leather crook sting holes that control the shoe from the basement. They are found on the center and left millstone. The millstone to the right the floor and the millstone were removed early in the 1900's during the Teahouse period for the first installation of public steps to the mill's basement. When the steps rotted out and needed replacing rather than replace them, they took out the ending stone to the left of the left stone and installed a second set of steps. The original set of basement steps were in the center of the mill, off of the millstone platform like in the Colvin Run Mill. At the inside of the back basement door of the was a pair of steps that led down two-three feet to the original level of the basement floor. From these steps to the center steps in the building of Peirce Mill were planks laid out to walk upon.

The original warning bells of Peirce Mill were simple leather pieces with leather cords that went out of the hopper and down through the hole in the floor. On the other end was hung a bell or a weight, between the floor and the hopper was a knot in the leather that would stop it from going all the way through the floor. When the hoppers become low, the weight of the bell drops down into free space in the basement (more visually that by sound) tell the miller the hopper is getting low. They were placed in the floor so the dropping of a weight or bell would not interfere with the turning of any of the mill's gears in the gear pit. I tried this before I installed a warning bell, like the one the Fitz Company installed, and they worked fine. But I though the sound of a bell ringing that could be heard on any floor inside or outside of the mill would be more entertaining for visitors. Unfortunately after I left the mill someone came along who thought American mills never had warning bells and removed it. I found the evidence on the ceiling and holes in the vertical shaft, and I have seen a photo that showed the warning bell system. Perhaps all of the holes and patches in the floors, cuts in beams and joists, and their former function will become meaningless now that they are planning to replace all of the flooring and some of the support beam systems

I have seen a warning bell in a mill in Carroll County, Maryland that warns the miller when barrels are full and need changing. Warning bells became cutoffs on packing machines that filled sacks and barrels by volume rather than by weight. If I remember correctly there was also a warning bell in the attached saw mill that rang when a cut on a long was about to be completed.

Also found in some mills are tools such as spears for catching eels, to clean and remove them out of the water system of the mill along with eel traps.

The miller's also might have several tubs and buckets. These would have been used during the meal bin sieve era of operation and later. In early America at least, the bin sieve was the first form of mechanical sifters. Above the meal bins in the mill's basement would be a long sifter frame that would run the length of the bin and have a pivot point on a movable spring at the tail end. At the head end it hung from an adjustable leather strap. The sifter was moved back and forth by a hinged rod that was moved by two pegs that stuck up on top of the lantern pinion that turned the millstone. With the coming of Oliver Evans system of milling this method of sifting was still retained for making corn meal, whole wheat flour and custom milling. The bin sieve changed how it operated however, the head end that was hung on an adjustable leather strap was replaced by a turning rod. The turning rod was mounted in fixed short beams that came off the husk frame and the rod had an eccentric that held the head end of the sieve. Above the eccentric was a small round wooden pulley that was turned by a larger pulley with a bottom lip that kept a leather belt from falling off. The larger pulley was mounted on the millstone spindle above the lantern pinion. The tail end of the sieve frame tapered to a narrow opening that poured the tailings into a barrel or hung sack. The sieve frame had removable screens that could be replaced because each sieve frame would have a different mesh screen. These sieve sifters worked fine for sifting small amounts, but when the stones would be run at full output of 300 to 500 pounds an hour, the miller would work full time at removing the bolted material from inside of these bins.

The problem with these types of sifters was in the era of only soft wheats, the soft wheat had a higher moisture content and would tend to clog the chute from the millstone and build up on the shaking sieve and would up and tail out of the sieve. I have used meshes in the sifter frames from large openings to sift out the bran for corn meal and whole wheat to fine cloths for making cake and pastry flour. I have used two meshes for sifting out the middlings or cereal from flour with the bran or hulls tailing out the end. You simply have a wooden box that fits into the meal bin and its lip is placed under the separation of the two meshes. The finer product goes into the bin and the larger material goes into the box and then the third largest tails out of the sieve. Some millers would use wooden paddles to help the material sift through the screens but I have learned from experience that hands work the best.

A flour milling kit with test hand sifter and different mesh screens.

A metal "flour trier" or scraper from a bleaching agent company.

Another metal "flour trier" from the Bemis Bag Company.

A magnifying glass from the Dufour Bolting Cloth Company.

A small round magnifying glass inside of it is case.

Bag sewing needles.

The flour room in a mill where flour was bagged and stored.

Years later when cotton and paper sacks were no longer tied shut with cotton string and the miller's knot other means were used. Some mills closed their sacks that were sewn shut or closed with wire twist ties. Twisters were used on a length of copper wire that had two loops on the ends. The wire was bent around the top of the sack and into the two loops would be the hook of a twister. The twister spun around and it would wind the wire tight around the neck of the sack. The later development was a spring loaded twister. The same process occurred and the hook placed into the loops and the handle of the twister pulled that would pull out the spiral spring loaded shank. When the spring retracted it twisted up the wire in one pulling motion. Sometimes the spring loaded twister was hung on a beam and both hands could be used to hold the sack and close the loops of the copper twisting wire.

The Miller's Office at the Masot Roller Mill, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

What Oliver Evans was all about was gadgets. Why should the miller do all of the work when a gadget can do all of the work. The miller should be able to be at his work station on the first floor near the millstones rather than being in the cold damp dark basement. The miller should be able to control the mill from the first floor using leavers and rope controls that open, close and change the path of the grain and flour within the mill. As it was said in Oliver Evans' time little wooden millers are doing all of the work. The miller then has more free time to learn about his trade, keep the mill clean and make improvements in the mill's operation. The material that mills are made out of are wood, stone and metal. Wood rots, stone wears down and metal rust. What man does not carry off, throw out, nature will burn up, dissolve, break drown, or the stream will loose for all time. The millwrights and millers did not pass on all of their knowledge to future generations, they took some of it to the grave with them.

Note: Not every mill has every thing mentioned above. Some mills may have things that I failed to mention. A custom mill would have different items than a merchant mill, also different are things found in a millstone mill and roller mill. The time period and the technology as well as many other factors influenced what the miller used or needed to operate the mill on a daily basis. Another example is a feed mill built as a feed mill that would have very different items in it than a flour mill that became a feed mill.

I can't think of everything and I don't know all things. I have learned from working in the National Park Service that if you are asked a question and don't know the answer, don't be afraid to say, "I don't know the answer to that question but I know who you could ask who would know (or where to look for the answer)." I learn new things every day and all the time about mills that I did not know before. I appologize for not having photos or images of all the things that I have discussed in the above text. I am working on it, it takes time to dig out some artifacts in my collection, then to photograph and scan them.

Return to Home Page

Copyright 2001 by T. R. Hazen