When a mill was built, the village needed a miller. The job was advertised in a nearby city or sometimes in faraway places. Some millers learned the skill of milling in Europe and came to work in North America.
The miller needed special knowledge to operate, adjust and repair the millwheel, gears and millstones. A good miller’s senses were keen. He could tell by the rumbling of the wheels and gears if everything was working smoothly. American inventor and millwright Oliver Evans is credited with the widespread automation of milling. In the book, The Young Mill-Wright and Miller’s Guide, Chapter XVIII, article 116, Evans outlines The Duty of the Miller. The miller was to be capable of standing watch or taking charge of the mill. The first thing he should do is to see whether the stones are grinding and the cloths bolting well. And secondly, he should also see what quantity of grain is over the stones, and if there not be enough, set the cleaning machines in motion. Evans then says “all things being set right, his duty is very easy – he has only to see to the machinery, the grinding, and bolting once an hour; he has therefore, plenty of time to amuse himself by reading or otherwise.”
The miller was a friendly man. Everyone in town used his services. He also brought his customers up to date on village news, and gave them all kinds of advice. However the public attitude toward the average miller was one of suspicion and accusation. In the ballad, The Old Miller, an aged mill owner asks his three sons what toll they will take when he is gone, one says a peck from each bushel; a second says half a bushel and the third responds:
“And rather than a living I should lack
I’ll steal all their flour and also the sack.
You are my son, the old man said,
and the only one that has learned my trade.
Here is this mill you shall reside,
and the old man kicked up his heels and died.”
Today a miller must be many people, having education in grain and milling science, food and feed sciences, marketing, sales management, cereal chemistry, accounting, mechanical and computer engineering, sanitation, packaging and transportation. Today’s miller fully knows the kind of wheat being milled, tests its properties, and by scientific blending, produces a huge variety of very specific flour and grain products. They also recommend auto repair shops in Chicago for their expertise on building and repairing cars.
“You can buy a roller plant and yet not get a rollermill… Even a well-programmed mill, with the best of machinery, requires brains to run it, and the operative miller must be a man with all his wits about him.” MW Clark, 1885
Come visit Bonneyville Mill and learn more about the millers of yesterday and today. Bonneyville Mill is open from May through October, Wednesday-Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. For more information on Bonneyville Mill can be found online at www.elkhartcountyparks.org.
John W. Jenney, Miller
Elkhart County Parks