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So You want a to be a Miller?

The Old Grist Miller from a Steroview Slide Card.

So You want a to be a Miller?
Theodore R. Hazen

The Swiss School of Milling: Practical work at the technological lab

Question 1: What training or education is necessary to become a miller? 
Question 2: What advice would you give a student regarding education in this field? 
Question 3: Are there any programs that you would recommend?

Traditionally a person became a miller through an apprenticeship program. If your father was a miller and then trade was handed down, and learned by one of his children. So a miller's children would learn the trade by helping out in the mill when they were young. When commercial merchant mills became larger milling operations into the modern era it became more of a profession. There then became milling text books, trade journals and schools that taught milling as a science. Today in in the United States there is a School of Milling Science at Kansas State University at Manhattan, Kansas, where you can get a degree in Milling Science. The Association of Operative Millers (A.O.M.) offers Home Training Courses in Flour Milling.

There are a number of different countries that have schools of milling. The Swiss School of Milling is in Gallen, Switzerland. This Swiss School holds classes alternatively in German or English languages. The international flour milling machinery company Buhler also operates a school of milling in Switzerland. The one country that produces the most highly technological advanced milling machinery is produced in Switzerland. They traditionally would have limited resources and a limited supply of grain so they have developed the tradition of doing the best that they could ever possibly do with it. They build the flour mills to operate like a fine Swiss watch. The milling schools also teach traditional flour mill as well as modern milling science. Most milling schools are like medical schools they only teach what is current.

The German School of Milling at Braunschweig, Germany trains millers and millwrights. You need 5 years relevant experience, including a successfully completed an apprenticeship and effective passing of the vocational school exam just to enter the school. The German children's song: "Das Wandern ist des Mullers Lust," talks about a whole way of life of the past that is behind this traditional song, which cannot be rendered by a translation. The following is a very poor interpretation of the song.

"Das Wandern ist des Mullers Lust"
1. Traveling by foot it the joy of the miller.
He must be a bad miller, who never got the idea
of walking from place to place.

2. The water was our teacher.
It never is quiet, neither by day nor by night,
always getting on.

3. We are also learning from the wheels,
Which don't like to stand still.
And don't get tired by turning around all day.

4. Even the stones as heavy as they are,
Are dancing with them
and would like to be faster.

5. Oh walking, walking is my joy!
Mr. Master and Mrs. Master,
let me go on in peace.

The miller would travel to find a mill, to serve the first 3 years of his apprenticeship. Then he would pickup and set a traveling again to locate a mill to complete his last 3 years of his apprenticeship. Because the wheels in the mill travel round and round, the miller must travel round and round. His old master must certify him that he has learned what he should have learned in his first 3 years of apprenticeship. A bad master would say that you have not learned it to the level that you should have and make you serve another year. Since the masters word was law, it could stretch it out again and again. Words to this song in German were put to music by Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

At least in the United States if you go to a large flour mill like Pillsbury or General Mills, you may discover that there may be only one or two persons that has an education in milling science. Those people are usually the person in charge of the mill, the mill manager and the head miller. Long ago in a grist mill, you would have the owner who was often the builder and also the miller. The miller would have one or two miller's helpers or apprentices. Gradually as the small custom or grist mills got away from grinding grains for local farmers and became larger commercial merchant milling operations that would buy grain now from not just grain dealers and farmers but would export their products around the world. The American Millers made lots of money when the Napoleonic Wars were going on because they supplied flour for that war effort, and it had almost tripled the price of a barrel of flour. In a larger mill you have greater numbers of people who do specialized jobs. Besides the people who work in the mill's office, you have the head miller, and possibly several millers below him. Then their are people who are the cleaners, oilers, maintenance and millwrights, packers and warehouse workers.

Many people got their start in the milling business because they just walked off the street. They looked like they were looking for a job and the mill owner may have need help at the time. If the woman they married father-in-law's own and operated a mill, so naturally they themselves got into the milling business. When I began working in mills back in northwestern Pennsylvania, a local high school in another small town sent several kids that in the distributive education program to work in a local mill in this small town. I remember back in the 1970's the National Park Service would have training classes for people who wanted to work in restored mills open to the public as millers. Since then they have sort of had a change of heart about mills on federal lands grinding grains and selling them to the public.

The Swiss School of Milling: Quality control at the mill lab

Question 4: What advice would you give a student regarding education in this field? 

That is a tough question, because if you go to most libraries their is little or nothing on the field of flour milling. Unless you are located in one of the grain growing and flour milling areas of the country that would have a lot of reference material on flour milling. I guess today the internet is the best and fastest source of information.

Are there any programs that you would recommend? That would depend upon where the student lives. If you are a student in Germany the school system in place may decided your pathways in life for you. It is almost a similar thing in England and some Scandinavian Countries with higher education, the system decides even if you go on beyond high school beyond a certain age.

The type of programs in a milling program would be milling and baking, chemistry, and mechanics. For the most part, the modern flour milling industry just teaches you how to operate modern flour mills. It is like the medical field, they don't teach you what is passed. Generally no one teaches old time flour milling that uses millstones as the primarily grinding apparatus in the mill with the exception of the Dutch and one of the Swiss schools teaches modern roller milling along with traditional millstone milling.

The Swiss School of Milling: Practical work in pneumatics

Question 5: What is the best way to get into the milling industry? 

I guess the best way is to go to school and get a degree in milling science. You could also take the Association of Operative Miller's home correspondence course in flour milling. It is broken up onto four parts. You have to complete each part before you can purchase and go onto the next part. When you complete the entire course you don't just get a certificate like most home study courses, you get a diploma in milling science.

I am not sure that they have isolated the gene that would make one interested in flour milling, but certainly it is something that is in the blood. It is almost an addiction like the addiction to drugs that is hard to shake. It is perhaps worse that being addicted to drugs. The flour dust gets into your covers the outside of you must have an effect upon your insides.

The Swiss School of Milling: Practical work in electrotechnics and automation

Question 6: What are the job opportunities available to flour millers? 

In the United States an industry publication called Milling and Baking News is the best source of positions for flour millers.

In the last ten years or so across the country has sprang up combination of the old mill and the corner bakery. These modern bakeries have electrically driven stone grind mills and they often grind organic grown wheat from Montana. The process of learning how to operate these flour mills becomes a trial and error. Either you let this piece of 10 thousand dollar window dressing sit in the front picture window or you learn by yourself who to switch it one, pour in the 50 pound sacks and adjust the texture of the grind. The baker or the bakery worker in this case becomes the part time miller. It is not really training it is just part of their job to produce freshly ground flour on-site that is made into that days bread.

Of course many people have this idea in their head that it would be neat to own an old mill or live in one. Many of the people who have the money to buy and restore an old mill have no idea what to do with it once they have it and it often becomes an expensive toy-toy. In England various milling groups train people who by a mill and don't know what to do with it once they have it. I understand that they have to turn people away from these courses each year because the demand is so great. In places like Germany and Holland they take milling more serious. They have strict programs to train millers and volunteers who work and operate historic wind and water mills. In Holland mills are considered national treasures and there is a system set up to restore mills and to train qualified mill workers.

Question 7: Who hires them? 

The larger commercial flour mills. There are still a number of small operating flour mills that grind organic stone ground flours that have developed a huge business in producing flour.

Question 8: Is there a region, area, or country where the jobs are more available?

Mainly the mills are located in the Midwest in the larger grain growing centers of the United States and Canada. There are still a number of mills in the east. Buckwheat is mainly grown in Pennsylvania and New York State as well as parts of West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Michigan, so naturally the mills that would mainly grind buckwheat would be in or near these states. Look in local phone books, and the Milling and Baking News published one a year a guidebook to the industry with machinery sources and lists of flour mills of any large scale operation size.

Question 9. How did you become involved in this field?

My grandfather was a millwright. His real trade in life or family trade in life was the making of violins. As a child you sometimes rebel against family trades and that you are forced to learn beginning as small child. So you may develop an interest in learning something else. He never got to really do that something else he wanted, like being a artist, so he developed his mechanical ability and could do or make anything. When I knew him he had retired from working in several mills and industries as a millwright. My grandfather and another man had built a small mill to operate and to play with in their old age. One of the kids in the neighborhood burned it down. The newspaper simply reported it as a barn that had burned down. My father had build several mill dams back in the 1930's before I was born and their were many mills still operating in the area. There was a water wheel powered cider mill and a number of water powered flour mills. I would enjoy seeing them as a kid. When I went to collage to become an art teacher. On my own I began working on a sketch book of rural buildings. Naturally the mills section grew to be larger than any other and a college professor said since you know so much about mills why don't you write a book about them. I went to the local college library and to other libraries in the area and found little or nothing on flour mills and milling in general. The problem with libraries it that they are boring, you can't drink, smoke, eat or play music while you are there. So I decided to go to the source of what I was writing about and learn about that first hand. I was at least lucky because there was several places to go within my area still. So I began hanging around and asking questions of these men who had been in the milling business most of their lives. Several of them were in their 80's and they had worked in the milling business for over 55 years. Then after a while I began helping out and after a while they began to pay me. I have still as yet to get my book on flour milling published but I have had a number of articles published.

I have known people who work as millers all of their lives and to them it is just a job. They go home and they do not think about mills, or have an interest to see another mill. A close friend passed away last week whose family had been in the milling business for several generations. When he retired and shut down his families mill, he did it to go out and see other mills. He was in his 80's and wanted to leave his mill to his son, but his siblings wanted liquidated his assets before he passed away and one of the things they took and sold was the old water power flour mill. I guess he died of a broken heart. And I can tell you lots of similar stories about these old timers who have an old mill and the family sells it out from under them to avoid inherence taxes.

Question 10: What do you find most challenging about this career? 

I have worked in a number of operating flour mills both commercial and ones that are restored and open to the public. I have also worked as a millwright, millstone dresser and milling consultant. So I build, restore and maintain flour and grist mills. Meeting the people in charge, the architects, the building contractors and others to try and make them understand the requirements for what needs to be done in a specific job. Unless you stand over them, repeatedly make them understand what I want or what is required of a job, hold their hand. If you leave them for any length of time no matter how many times you explained it to them, make drawings and plans, have piles of photos, notes and memos. The will do it wrong. Then they come back to you and say "Oh, well I guess we have to live with it." "No buddy," I often would like to say to them, "I don't have to live with it. You screw up, You spent thousands of dollars doing something that I repeatedly told you not to do. I don't have to live with it. I get to go home, and go onto another project. Hopefully they won't screw up as bad as you did. I don't have to live with it. Unless you want me to come in and make it work for you. It is not my mistake."

What do you find most rewarding? Making something. Making flour is a lot like making pottery. I became greatly interested in making pottery when I was in college. The frustration at that time was you could not even give it away let alone sell it for the asking price. Since I gave it up now everyone seems to be making pottery all around the country. I guess the big frustration comes when you love something so much and can't seem to make a living at it.

There is a big fascination with mills writher they are old mills or modern flour mills. Mills represent a tangible technology. Many towns were built as a result of a mill being build there first in the wilderness. And unlike the so much of our rapidly advancing modern technology, old water, wind and tidal powered mills are of the earth. Mills make a basic staple of life. It produces a basic food staple. The process of flour milling today is the same as it has been for over the last hundred of years. The only difference is that they added to the miller's brain by the introduction of computers. You can eliminate the computers and mills are operated the way they have been for thousand of years with your senses of touch, smell, sight, sound and vibration. The technological changes that occurred before the introduction of modern flour milling occurred two hundred years ago. And before that the process of flour milling had not changed in 2 to 3 thousand years. The old methods and materials for milling flour are still the best. Modern industry has improved on some of the materials but the process still remains basically the same. The flour is milled and then it is sifted. Any other process is nice but you still can produce flour without it.

For example, the farmer takes love and care to plow the fields, plant the grain and watch it grow until it is time to harvest. Then, the farmer takes the grain to the mill, where the miller has taken such love and care to keep his machinery tuned to work to produce the best product that he possibly can. Then he places the grain for the millstones or the roller mills to grind. After the flour is ground, the miller can tell just by feeling it between his fingers when it comes out of the machinery, whether or not it will make good bread

Question 11: How would you rate the job outlook for millers -- good, fair, poor?

Well, since World War Two the individual consumption of flour has greatly declined in America. This is one of the factors why the majority of small rural flour mills have closed their doors and disappeared for good, besides the system of supply has greatly changed. Industry today used flour for more products than ever before. That depends upon if you can convince people to eat more grain products? I find that question hard to answer. I like and love mills but I don't like or use the products of the modern flour milling industry. I hear that grain and flour is no longer classified as a staple of life makes you wonder what folks are eating these days?

There is a saying that goes: "The lighter the loaf, the faster you go. The whiter the bread the sooner your dead."

Well if I had been a graduate of milling science from Kansas State University and had worked in large commercial milling companies I would have recommended reading: "Flour for Man's Bread: A History of Milling," by John Storck and Walter Dorwin Teague, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, (1952), 382 pages, illustrations by Harold Rydell. Walter Teague, the noted industrial designer, supervised the production of the illustrations. The first comprehensive study of the history of milling. Another book would be an industrial publication like, "From Wheat to Flour."

I am from sort of the old-school, I learned the milling business by working in mills from an early age from men who spent their lives working in flour mills.

Question 12: Can you give an example of a dilemma one might fact in this occupation?

Modern technology has not found a better method of producing flour other than with the use of millstone or roller mills. Back in the early 1960's they tried running the grain over stainless steel plates and exposing it to high pressure burst of air to break it apart or reduce it into smaller particles. In more recent times they have tried lasers upon the grain and have discovered no new modern technology or method to better to produce flour and meal from grain. So because we are basically using obsolete methods to produce flour and meal, and in time will eventually the whole industry become obsolete? Some of the materials have changed no longer is wood the most common element in the construction of flour making machinery, chutes and equipment in a mill. Technology has not really increased production, in flour mills to increase production we still have to build larger building with more machinery to increase production. Other than the introduction of computers the biggest advancements in the flour milling industry occurred 200 years ago with the improvements of Oliver Evans and his system of automated flour milling. Since the process is obsolete to we abandon using its products and find other uses for grain like producing fuels. Henry Ford eventually wanted to produce an automobile that was completely constructed out of soy bean products (from plastics, to tires to the engine) and powered by a soy bean fuel. Since flour dust is 35 times more explosive than coal dust and more explosive than gun powder perhaps we should be making bombs out of grain products. There is no radiation or contamination involved. What they teach you in spy school 101 is now to flatten a building using a tuna fish can full of gasoline and a bean can full of flour. Just think of all the farmers and farm land that would have not disappeared in the last 100 years if farmers were producing products for warfare rather than human consumption.

Question 13: What are some changes you've seen in this industry over the years?

I have seen the small rural flour mills either water power or by some other method disappear and go out of existence. When I was born there was mills that could produce 125 thousand to 600 thousand pounds of flour in a 24 hour period. Now there just seems to be less of them. At one time many third world countries that had the most primitive milling methods now have the most technologically advanced mills in the world. At one time there was an underground movement going on in this country that involved organizations tied up with church groups that bought old milling machinery (they also did medical and dental equipment), reconditioned it and shipped it off to third world countries. But now they have money and they don't want our used obsolete hand-me-down junk. We have learned more about what we should be eating or not eating. I don't like the products produced by the modern flour milling industry. I try and only eat natural flour and meals without any artificial ingredients (that goes for artificial chemical enrichment). I never like white (marshmallow) bread. Now we are told cut back on grain and bread products and eat more fruits and vegetables.

Question 14: What are the occupational hazards of woking in this Industry?

Traditionally there was the "miller's cough," a common respiratory complaint caused by the inhalation of dust in a flour mill. This complaint was mainly found in pre Oliver Evans mills of the 1700's that had open bin sifters. There were in the 1700's all sorts of strange mixtures of various things that when drunk claimed to cure the "miller's cough." Some of these were even printed in books and magazines. A lot of flour dust was put into the air. With the coming of Oliver Evans machinery the grain and flour was always contained within the machinery and mills gradually became less dusty places to work. That mainly depended up the standards of housekeeping that the mill maintained. As time passed they developed machinery to contain and eliminate the dust. It also helped when they discovered that flour dust was the main problem of dust explosions in mill. Mills are not the dusty noisy places that one would think. There are no more people hurt in mills than I would say any other industry. A good miller has respect for the power behind the machinery, and he know what it can do to you if you get in its way. There seem to be more accidents and deaths in rural mills years ago because of carelessness upon the miller or his regard for the safety of child labor.

For centuries the miller wore white clothing. He did not have a means of cleaning grains until the end of the 1700's so if he maintained a general white clean appearance perhaps his product was the same way. Back in the 1300's the baker was recorded to take on the costume of the miller. Today in modern mills they would have climate controls to keep the mill below a certain temperature to eliminate the problems with insect infestations they also contain and eliminate the problem of dust. Most people that work in the milling industry or become millers are pretty happy with the working conditions and environment.

Question 15: Is there anything else you would like for others to understand about this field?

I had a friend the late Charles Howell who had began working in his family mill at the age of 14 in England. Back then one of the requirements was that you had to be able to lift a 200 pound sack of grain because that was also basically the weight of flour in a barrel. He often said that he could trace his family back to 1375. Most generations were involved in the milling business in one way or another. At one time his family operated 5 water power mills in England. The mill that he and his father worked in is now a restaurant. Today his nephew (also named Charles) operates the last of their traditional English flour mills. After Charlie Howell suddenly passed away in 1993, they crated up his Midget Marval Mill that he had stored in a barn in New York State for many years. Now it is operating making flour back in the Howell Mill in England. So I guess a bit of the master miller Charlie Howell is still making flour somewhere still. That nephew who operates the mill with one Charlie Howell's brother George who is 80 years old makes Indian breads. There is such a huge Indian population in England today this traditional English country mill now makes traditional bread flour for immigrants from India. I know of a flour mill in New York State that was constructed in 1788. It is powered by water turbines and it has 5 pairs of millstones. Its big business is making bulk Kosher flour that trucked down to New York City for making matzo at Passover. I guess that teaches us that we need to learn to adapt, and go with the flow, or you just might end up like the dinosaurs.

Professional job definition: Grinder Operator 521.682-026

Alternate Job Titles: feed miller; grist miller; mill operator; roller-mill operator

Operates bank of roll grinders to grind grain into meal or flour: Opens and closes slides in spouts to route grain to various grinders and sifters. Turns wheels to adjust pressure of grinding rollers for each break (passage of grain between rollers), according to grain size and hardness, and adjusts feed chutes to regulate flow of grain to rollers. Inspects product and sifts out chaff to determine percentage of yield. Adjusts rollers to maintain maximum yield. Replaces worn grinding rollers, using hand tools. May sift and bolt meal or flour. May clean and temper grain prior to grinding. May direct workers who drain and temper grain and bolt meal or flour. May be designated according to grain milled as Corn Miller (grain-feed mills). May operate burr mills instead of roll grinders to grind grain and be designated Burr-Mill Operator (grain-feed mills).

A List of Training for the Flour Milling Industry:


Association of Operative Millers

Correspondence Course in Flour Milling

Kansas State University
International Grains Program
201 Shellenberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506

German School of Milling Braunschweig, Germany.

The Swiss School of Milling St. Gallen, Switzerland


National Grain and Feed Association

1003-1250 Eye St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20005-3917

Association of Operative Millers
College Blvd., Ste. 104
Leawood, KS 66211

Australian Association of Technical Millers
A page of milling-related links from all over the world

American Association Cereal Chemists




Milling & Baking News
Sosland Publishing Company

World Grain

Wheat Flour Milling, by E. S. Posner and A. N. Hibbs.
The American Association of Cereal Chemists
How to Order AACC Publications


Grains of Truth About...

Offers fun and informative facts on various grain products
Find flour mills and brands here, as well as industry news

Grain Dust Peril
Explains how grain dust becomes explosive

Pond Lily Mill Restorations
Lots of information on milling history and restoration

The Old Miller that has time to kill?
He is waiting for the millwright to construct a new
water wheel, so he can operate the grist mill once again.

Why do many people think for you to be a miller you have to be old?
Now I can pass on what I have learned to someone younger.

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Copyright 2001 by T. R. Hazen