|The Cultural History of Mills
Modern researchers believe that man has cultivated cereals for at least 10,000 years. The oldest petrified bread yet discovered dates from about 5,500 years ago.
The Egyptians prepared their flour with pestles and sieves. According to a Greek myth, the Greek Mylas was the inventor of the millstone.
The Romans later fully developed and refined mill engineering and grinding workmanship. Besides small handmills and querns, they used cone mills driven by horses, oxen or slaves.
For the first time, in the year 25 B.C., the building contractor, architect and engineer Vitruvius wrote about a waterwheel-driven mill. This mill had about one horsepower and a mere ten per cent efficiency. Now, for the first time, no muscle power was needed to drive this mill, because the potential energy stored in the water was changed into kinetic energy. Thus the waterwheel-driven mill is usually deemed the oldest machine in human history. Using this novel drive technology it was later possible to develop more sophisticated milling machines.
In one of his poems, the 4th century Roman poet Ausonius described water-wheel-driven stone sawmills on the River Rur in Germany.
Although the Roman Empire was already declining in the 5th century A.D., mills had conquered the world. At this time we also find the origins of shipmills powered by river waters.
In the 7th and 8th centuries windmills were utilized for the first time. In the 9th century mills began to be used to produce malt for beer-mash, and to pulverize iron ore. In the 13th century mills were used for paper manufacture and for the fulling of wool.
In the 14th century turning lathes were driven by mills for the first time. In the 15th century tube-boring mills, wire-drawing mills, rolling mills and impeller breakers for sheet metal production were developed.
By the 16th century in Europe there were at least forty different manufacturing processes using water power.
In the 16th century hoisting devices, chain driven bucket elevators and pit ventilators for mines were built for the first time.
There were then other subsequent mill inventions, including bark tanning-, chaff-, chair-, glass-grinding-, pumping-, scythe-, silk-, spice-, spinning-, stocking weaving-, stone burr-, threshing- and twine-mills.
In 1769 the Englishman James Watt registered his first steam engine patent, and in 1782 he succeeded in constructing a twenty horsepower industrial steam engine. The end of the era of water- and windmills was near. With the discovery of electricity in 1880 an age of more efficient energy use was ushered in, and water- and windmills were now no longer actively used. This technological progress did, however, mean that more powerful and efficient milling machines could be developed, and small and mid-size merchant mills began to appear. Today the tendency is towards large-scale milling in a few centralized mills.