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Illustration of an automated mill for processing grain

This illustration of an automated mill for processing grain appeared in Oliver Evans’ “The Young Mill-wright & Miller’s Guide,” published in 1795.

To the Millers—The Subscribers have a Merchant-Mill on Redclay Creek, 3 Miles above Newport, Newcastle County, Delaware, with Evans’s new-invented Elevators and Hopperboys erected in her.  John, Theophilus, & Oliver Evans

Thus read a broadside advertising a new invention for the new United States, an automated grain mill.  The mill was invented in 1787 by Oliver Evans (1755-1819) of Delaware.  Evans was an inventor of a machine for making card teeth for carding wool, a high-pressure steam engine and a refrigeration machine.  But his most important invention was his grain mill apparatus.

After the American Revolution, the country was in an economic crisis.  The United States plunged into a recession, with high taxes, a large war debt, and a weak central government.  But a growing domestic market in the 1780s caused some industries to expand.  The Middle Colonies, particularly Pennsylvania and Maryland, supported large grain growing regions, which paved the way for an entrepreneur like Oliver Evans to invent and patent a machine to make grain grinding easier.

In Evans’ flour mill, all the work was done by a variety of machines geared to the same water wheel.  Only two men were needed, one to empty bags of wheat at one end of the machine, and one to close and roll away barrels of flour at the other end.  Mill owners in the Delaware Valley gradually began to replace their older, laborious mills with Evans’ product.  Even George Washington installed Evans’ invention at his gristmill at Mount Vernon!

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