This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
[Footnote 1: A paper read before the meeting of the Pennsylvania State Millers Association at Pittsburgh, Pa., by Albert Hoppin, Editor of the Northwestern Miller.]
By ALBERT HOPPIN.
To speak of the wonderful strides which the art of milling has taken during the past decade has become exceedingly trite. This progress, patent to the most casual observer, is a marked example of the power inherent in man to overcome natural obstacles. Had the climatic conditions of the Northwest allowed the raising of as good winter wheat as that raised in winter wheat sections generally, I doubt if we should hear so much to-day of new processes and gradual reduction systems. So long as the great bulk of our supply of breadstuffs came from the winter wheat fields, progress was very slow; the mills of 1860, and I may even say of 1870, being but little in advance, so far as processes were concerned, of those built half a century earlier. The reason for this lack of progress may be found in the ease with which winter wheat could be made into good, white, merchantable flour. That this flour was inferior to the flour turned out by winter wheat mills now is proven by the old recipe for telling good flour from that which was bad, viz.: To throw a handful against the side of the barrel, if it stuck there it was good, the color being of a yellowish cast. What good winter wheat patent to-day will do this? Still the old time winter wheat flour was the best there was, and it had no competitor. The settling up of the Northwest which could not produce winter wheat at all, but which did produce a most superior article of hard spring wheat, was a new factor in the milling problem. The first mills built in the spring wheat States tried to make flour on the old system and made a most lamentable failure of it. I can remember when the farmer in Wisconsin, who liked a good loaf of bread, thought it necessary to raise a little patch of winter wheat for his own use. He oftener failed than succeeded, and most frequently gave it up as a bad job. Spring wheat was hard, with a very tender, brittle bran. If ground fine enough to make a good yield a good share of the bran went into the flour, making it dark and specky. If not so finely ground the flour was whiter, but the large percentage of middlings made the yield per bushel ruinously small. These middlings contained the choicest part of the flour producing part of the berry, but owing to the dirt, germ, and other impurities mixed with them, it was impossible to regrind them except for a low grade flour. Merchant milling of spring wheat was impossible wherever the flour came in competition with winter wheat flours. At Minneapolis, where the millers had an almost unlimited water power, and wheat at the lowest price, merchant milling was almost given up as impracticable. It was certainly unprofitable. To the apparently insurmountable obstacles in the way of milling spring wheat successfully, we may ascribe the progress of modern milling. Had it been as easy to raise good winter wheat in Wisconsin and Minnesota as in Pennsylvania and Ohio, or as easy to make white flour from spring as from winter wheat, we should not have heard of purifiers and roller mills for years to come.
The first step in advance was the introduction of a machine to purify middlings. It was found that the flour made from these purified middlings was whiter than the flour from the first grinding and brought a better price than even winter wheat flours. Then the aim was to make as many middlings as possible. To do this and still clean the bran so as to make a reasonable yield the dress of the burrs was more carefully attended to, the old fashioned cracks were left out, the faces and furrows made smooth, true, and uniform, self-adjusting drivers introduced, and the driving gear better fitted. Spring wheat patents rapidly rose to the first place in the market, and winter wheat millers waked up to find their vantage ground occupied by their hitherto contemned rivals. To their credit it may be said that they have not been slow in taking up the gauntlet, and through the competition of the millers of the two climatically divided sections of this country with each other and among themselves the onward march of milling progress has been constantly accelerated. Where it will end no man can tell, and the chief anxiety of every progressive miller, whether he lives in Pennsylvania or Minnesota, is not to be left behind in the race.
The millers of the more Eastern winter wheat States have a two-fold question to solve. First, how to make a flour as good as can be found in the market, and second, how to meet Western competition, which, through cheap raw material and discriminating freight rates, is making serious inroads upon the local markets. Whether the latter trouble can be remedied by legislature, either State or national, or not, remains to be proven by actual trial. That you can solve the first part of the problem satisfactorily to yourselves depends upon your readiness to adopt new ideas and the means you have at hand to carry them out. It is manifestly impossible to make as good a flour out of soft starchy wheat as out of that which is harder and more glutinous. It is equally impossible for the small mill poorly provided with machinery to cope successfully with the large merchant mill fully equipped with every appliance that American ingenuity can suggest and money can buy. I believe, however, that a mill of moderate size can make flour equally as good as the large mill, though, perhaps, not as economically in regard to yield and cost of manufacture.
The different methods of milling at present in use may be generally divided into three distinct processes, which, for want of any better names, I will distinguish as old style, new process, and gradual reduction. Perhaps the German division of low milling, half high milling, and high milling is better. Old style milling was that in general use in this country up to 1870, and which is still followed in the great majority of small custom or grist mills. It is very simple, consisting of grinding the wheat as fine as possible at the first grinding, and separating the meal into flour, superfine or extra, middlings, shorts, and bran. Given a pair of millstones and reel long enough, and the wheat could be made into flour by passing through the two. Because spring wheat was so poorly adapted to this crude process, it had to be improved and elaborated, resulting in the new process.