Bart Thoman

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There were other changes than in milling. When I started at the mill the common farm was 80 acres and employed a hired hand the year around. Before I left farmers were farming up to 250 acres and milking 20 to 25 cows in addition this with no help except that the wife might ride a tractor occasionally. The 80 acre farm was averaging around 18 bushel of wheat to the acre with top yields running up to 25 bushel. Farmers now averaging around 45 bushel to the acre with yields running up to 60 bushel. As old time farming changed, the farmer bought more and more machinery and his use of flour which had been very heavy declined rapidly along with his need of energy foods carbohydrates. The same thing was happening in cities fewer hours of lighter labor and the needs for less energy. The per capita use of flour began to shrink very rapidly. Then a few years later the commercial bakers began strong advertising campaigns to convince women they didn’t need to bake. These were successful and fewer and fewer women did bread baking. Then diets commenced to change. The bread, meat and potatoes diet changed to salads, vegetables, and fruits which were coming on the market year around. The women and the men also began to get weight conscious and commenced to feel that bread and potatoes were puffing them out of shape. With the advancement of the automobile, people walked less with still less need of energy. And the woman learned how to play bridge which may have had something to do with it also. Then prepared mixes commenced to come on the market first the biscuit mixes, then late cake mixes finally frozen pies and TV dinners. Very little flour as such is used now in the average home. The sale of flour is almost all to converters bakeries and prepares of ready-made foods or foods needing merely to be put in the oven. The mix markers almost all own their own mills which are called captive mills and do all the milling for themselves. For many years after export business stopped we had found a good market in the south and before too long that had changed to self rising flour entirely. The south served hot baking powder biscuits each and every meal. They preferred Michigan flour for its whiteness and its tenderness in biscuits. After some years the practice started of mixing in the flour’s soda, an acid phosphate or cream of tartar and salt so only a liquid need to be added. After some years the western mills got a preferential freight rate to the south and took considerable of the business price basis even the flours was not quite as satisfactory. As stated above, for many years self rising flour was the only type of flour for home use shipped to the south. I do not know how far they may have strayed from hot biscuits three times a day but only very little of such flour is now shipped there out of Michigan. I imagine it was the success of this mix that led some mills to venture into the more intricate cake mixes. When we were shipping self rising flour to the south, we tried to introduce the same flour as a biscuit flour to the north in a very attractive sack designed especially for attraction of the buyer. It was not very successful. As long as we advertised it, it moved in moderate volume but slackened as advertising slackened and the margin did not support the necessary advertising. At first the larger mills had the same results with their biscuit flours but they had a deeper pocketbook and more reason for persistence. Here hot biscuits are an infrequent treat while in the south they appear every meal or used to. When the first cake flours appeared on the market, I thought some of trying that but your experience with the biscuit flour decided against it. It would have required a large investment with a long delayed return and was really a job for a large mill with national distribution and large capital and I was wanting to get further out and not further in.

So the per capita flour consumption has had a steady and very decided decline during all my business experience to I would guess a little if any more than half the 1900 figure. The sale of flour to the housewife as flour has almost disappeared. Milling is rapidly moving to the large integrated companies. The need for smaller independent mills is more and more declining except for sales to local bakeries and flour jobbers, delivered mostly by truck, but the active and aggressive mill can still remain successful. In the days of the small merchant mills, Michigan had no really large mills even by standards of these days except in Detroit and Hillsdale and by today’s standards those are moderate sized. The average merchant mill in Michigan ran from 200 barrels a day to 600 or so that means on a 24 hour day. Mills were run then night and day 6 days a week and at times seven days with two 12 hour shifts, recognized as necessary to keep down costs as prices were extremely competitive. As the use of flour declined and the market for the mills shrunk, there commenced the game of musical chairs with mills being gradually and surely driven out of business. Competition became and remained intense and the search for markets never slackened. A mill crippled by fire or other causes were never rebuilt and many were abandoned and stood idle until used for something else or torn down as they failed in business or became consistently unprofitable. It seems that the situation has still not changed as about a month ago I saw that the largest U.S. Milling Company General Mills has closed down seven of its mills which adds up to half its capacity due to the inability of securing a profit from their operation.

Before this century, flour for the domestic trade was shipped in wooden barrels 196# to the barrel which is 14 stone the English weight. Shipping mills commonly had their own cooper shops. The Thoman Mill at one time employed 10 coopers. The staves and the heads came in carlots. The hoops were shaved hoops coming in a few bundles at a time from the small towns north of here. It was the practice in the small towns for a few people to employ themselves in the winter by cutting poles and then with a drawknife shaving hoops off the poles into strips of an inch or so wide and about 6 or seven feet long. These would be just the outer part of the poles so the hoops would always have the bark as part of the hoop. To keep them pliable they were soaked for some time before use in a huge wooden vat full of water near the cooper shop back of the mill. After a spell the vat would accumulate a rich aroma a bit reminiscent of a tannery and after enough complaints had been registered, the vat would be emptied and cleaned. The flour barrel was really a very nice looking package and the making of it very interesting and I spent quite a bit of time when young in the cooper shop watching the barrels being made. Some few years before the barrels were discontinued, crepe paper liners were introduced and used by the mill. Flour was sold out of the barrels just as sugar and crackers once were dipped out according to the amount wished. Along about the turn to the century the use of sacks for flours commenced paper sacks for the local trade and cotton for carlot shipment though we did ship some little in paper to New England. These stuck to the 196# weight as a standard and were packed in 98#, 49# and 24 ½# amounts being fractions of the 196# barrel and were sold and priced by the barrel. Then as the use of flour diminished, 12# and 61/8# sacks came into use and 5# sacks introduced to the local trade. Later the decimal system came into use the mills secured a national lay an then we had 100#, 50#, 25# 12 ½#, 10#, 5# and finally 2# sacks.

We used to ship some flour to the logging camps in Michigan and New England in addition to the New England city trade but our best market after export stopped was in the south. The south demanded a very white flour and Michigan wheat had a natural white color. However to get the flour whiter and whiter bleaching was introduced. The first method was called the Alsop process and the only one ever used by us. This consisted in passing air over an electric spark which greatly activate it and the flour was sprayed in a chamber kept filled with the activated air. Flour contains carotene a yellowish oil that gives a slightly creamy color to the newly milled flours. This was called “bloom” by old time millers who were very proud of a nice clear creamy appearance of their flour. However the housewives did not want bloom they wanted dead whiteness. The color gradually disappeared in storage in a matter of a few months depending on conditions of storage. The Alsop process would produce in a few days the results of months of storage without treatment. The treatment sounds rather harmless but was the subject of a great deal of controversy between the mills and manufacturer and the government, as to whether the process was really bleaching. Western wheats produce flour somewhat darker than Michigan nor does it lose its color as readily as Michigan flour anyway they require stronger treatment. The West got preferential freight rates to the south and needed a whiter flour to take advantage of this windfall. The stronger flours were not as satisfactory even though bleach as Michigan but were considerable cheaper and took over a very large portion of the market there. But there was also a demand from bakers for a whiter flour to make whiter bread. So stronger bleaches came on the market. These used chlorine in some form. One was chlorine in a liquid form used as a gas and called Beta Chlora. In another type, chlorine was incorporated as a powder and fed into the flour. This entirely disappeared in a short time leaving practically no detectable residue as an addition to the mineral content of the flour known as ash. Both were very effective. The chlorine used as a gas was found to have another property than merely bleaching. When used with pastry flours, it held the cake in the oven right at its point of furthest expansion through some action on the gluten. So thus it avoided that slight shrinkage that is apt to occur in flours made from untreated flours which makes the cake slightly heavy. It also enables the dough to carry a large percentage of sugar keeping the cake moist and fresh longer as well as making a sweeter cake. So this was used with all fancy cake flours such as Swan’s Down, Soft as Silk, etc. I am sure that this type of treated flour is used in all cake mixes.

The Thoman Mill as it was being torn down in 1957 and replace with a parking lot. (FPLA/CADL)

Before the end of the last century there was little or no trouble with insect infestation of wheat, flour or mills at least I heard of very little. But about that time I can recall the commencement of some treatment for it. As far as our mill is concerned, the first use of preventatives was carbon disulfide. It was a liquid and was set around in pans to gasify. It seemed not only to eliminate the infestation but also to give the applicators the experience of a glorious drunk. So I think it can safely be said that the insects all died happy. I image these were the two types of grain weevil. Some few years later the Mediterranean Fly arrived in this country and spread unbelievably rapidly. For quite a few years it was a real pest that required constant vigilance. If left undisturbed a very short time, it would completely fill a spout or an elevator leg with a thick mat of web. The first method of meeting this was to burn papers heavily impregnated with a liquid made from tobacco I presume heavy in nicotine. I bought small cans, punched the top full of holes, bent over a thin strip to hold the papers up from the bottom and these when lit and set in the bottom of the spouts and elevator legs did a very excellent job. By keeping on top of the situation we had no trouble at all but mills that neglected the treatment till the pest got a good start had a very serious and expensive problem on their hands. From that time on I do not recall any trouble with that insect I presume that our regular treatments by the improving method pretty well kept it eliminated. Weevil however still required constant attention. This burning of papers created a fire hazard and I was never happy about that. Other and better methods were looked for the industry. Then in the Northwest, Minnesota and the Dakotas, the use of extreme cold was tired successfully. It was found that zero cold for twenty four hours would eliminate both insects and their eggs. While that was suitable for the section where it originated, it was not practical in this area. It was also found that a heat of 110 to 120 degrees for twenty four hours would be just as effective. So for some few years each summer on the Fourth of July weekend which fortunately always seemed in a hot steam, with the city keeping steam in the mains as a favor to us, we would seal the mill up tight and turn on all the steam possible till Monday morning. This worked very well except that for the first couple days after reopening we had a free Turkish bath with the heat coming out of the walls. They acted just like a hot water bottle. I do not really recall any failures but it was always a worry whether we would get the hot weekend before the city turned off the steam. So next when it was found that teargas was effective we turned to that. This meant extra careful sealing all doors, windows, and any cracks anywhere. The gas is very penetrative and hard to control and confine. We liked hot weather for that also as it made the gas much more active. It required gas masks and the worst of it was coming back Monday morning and trying to do business with the walls and floors giving back gas. For a couple of days or so, our place looked like a soap opera audience. Then too the gas being very penetrative, went deeply into stored flour. When the flour was used in a bakery it was about as effective in killing the yeast enzyme as it was in the insect life and eggs. So it brought complaints of bad batches of bread as well as tears to the eyes of the bakers. And no matter how tightly the place was sealed, always some little gas would escape and occasionally people a block or more from the mill would find their eyes full of tears and at times get quite concerned about it. It seemed to travel in clouds. We were not the only people who accepted the tears from the gas at all philosophically. After weeping this out for some few years, the use of hydrocyanic acid gas was developed and we used that until the closing of the mill. It did not affect the flour in any way and was very effective. Such life as it touched departed. However since the handling the material as well as the gas itself did not permit the slightest carelessness, I supervised personally the whole operation from handling the materials to setting off the fumes. The hardest work was to convince my help that it dint give anyone a second chance. It also required careful sealing but since the gas was lighter than air, there was no danger to the outside. It take a minute or so after the odor can be detected it smells like peach pits before it gets to lethal strength. I am happy to state that no one around our place ever learned what it smelled like. In addition I kept a guard around the place during the time of its greatest concentration, and also entered the plant first on Monday morning. There have been of course many changes in milling even in the few years intervening. Mills still require constant care to prevent insect infestation and in recent years a matching to five a final treatment just before the flour drops into the sacks or bin has come into wide use it is called the Entoleter. It throws the flours at great speed by centrifugal force against the walls and eliminates any life or eggs by impact. And this same principle has been applied to make four by some few mills milling by impact instead of by steel rolls. It seems to produce flour with somewhat different properties but so far is only used to a quite small extent. There are other phases of milling interesting to me at least such as the cleaning of wheat for milling and the progress and change made in that. And then too a great deal of flour is now delivered in bulk saving the cost of sacks. Many railroad cars have been built for this special use and mills that deliver as short ways by truck have special trucks in use. Of course this is the only use for users of large quantities of flour. But it does show in this age of extreme competition the lengths a manufacturer had to go to search for the ultimate economy, and reduction in cost.

Later—Since giving this paper I have run across an account of my father that will clear up the age of the mill. He states that the mill was built in 1868 and opened for business January 1st, 1869. So if the writer who spoke of the mill being built in 1857 is correct that a mill was built at that time, it would probably have been the Breisch Mill known as the Pearl Mills. Mr. Thoman also states that flour in his time sold as low as $2.50 per barrel and as high as $15.00 per barrel. And apparently we also had exported flour to France and Holland.

Bart Thoman from the Oracle Yearbook 1901

I have always wondered who wrote this paper on the Thoman Mill in Lansing. An article in the January 11, 1966 Lansing State Journal confirmed my suspicions that it was Bart Thoman the son of John P. Thoman. The paper was presented at the January meeting of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing at the Lansing Public Library on January 12, 1966. (LSJ1/11/1966) Later that same year the Lansing State Journalon September 27, 1966 reported that David Reynolds the son of Eleanor Reynolds, who was the daughter Frank Thoman, remove the buhrstone from in front of the old Frederick Thoman residence at 521 S. Grand. Just where the millstone is today is a mystery. (Is it on Capitol?) Wallace Bartley Thoman was born in Lansing on October 3, 1884 to John Phillip and Candace (née Paramore) Thoman. Not much is known about Wallace Bartley Thoman early life except that he graduated from Lansing High School in 1901 and he liked to be referred to as Bart Thoman. He was active young man while in High School, he was editor of the 1901 Oracle yearbook and was a member the Phi Alpha Delta fraternity. There seemed to be three things that were important in Bart’s life, the milling business, the city of Lansing and his work in providing education opportunities to the disadvantaged youth of Guatemala. He served on the board of several public and private organizations. It seems Bart shunned the limelight, preferring to not give interviews but to allow his work in the community and in Guatemala to speak for itself. It would have been fascinating to see Bart give his presentation on the history of Milling in Lansing on the cold January night. Bart never married. He was close to his sister Candace, together they formed the W B & Candace Thoman Foundation to serve the community and promote education. Bart Thoman died on January 20, 1979. (LSJ1/22/1979)

THOMAN MILLING CO & MILLING 

January 1966

The earliest image of the Thoman Mill. The home has been identified at the Morely Boarding House it may have been the original Thoman Home. (FPLA/CADL)

My first recollection of the old mill occurred at the age of three. We lived next door in a house where the Wynkoop, Hallendeck, Crawford Printing Company was and I had fallen down a hole dug for the foundation of some bins and struck my head on a sharp stick a very small fraction of an inch from my eye. I can remember watching the water turned red in the basin where my father was bathing my head. Later on I was given a knife by my father and set to cutting the tarred cord that bound the bundles of staves for our barrels  cutting them into lengths to tie feed bags. In those days there was little waste. Still later I used to earn my nickels with a brush and color cake stenciling the barrel heads with our brands. Later on we changed to printed labels and paste. I rather grew up in the mill and in 1905 when my father [John P. Thoman] took over after a three years absences, I started to work there full time. I continued till the liquidation in 1957. So with 52 years in the same place you can see why I smile when people speak of a 40 year tenure as an achievement.

I know very little of the earliest history of the mill. Someone interested in early Lansing has said that the uptown building corner Ottawa and Grand was built in 1857 just 100 years before its purchase by the city and demolition. The first information I have is that in 1868, Frederick Thoman older brother of my father and a brother-in-law of his by the name of Rietz bought the mill and that as far as I know was the first that the name of Thoman was connected with it.[1]As a matter of interest, there was at the time of razing still there an old scale that bore the name of Thoman & Rietz. I believe that somewhat later Frederick Thoman acquired sole ownership. Anyway in 1884 my father sold his interest in a drygoods store in Crestline Ohio and bought a third interest in the mill thence known as F. Thoman & Bro. I believe it was about that time that the mill took out its runs of stone and installed the then new system of steel roller mills and installed the texas [The manuscript does say texas] on top to care for some additional cleaning machinery. One of the stones is now acting as horseblock in front of the old Thoman residence on Grand Ave south. I believe also that about that time or a little later a Corliss engine was installed in place of an old slide valve engine. In 1898 the firm bought the North Lansing mill of the North Lansing Milling Co. from the receivers of the bank the mill had failed in 1893 and you will notice so had the bank. This was located on the mill race there that had on it also the Breisch mill at the corner of Franklin [East Grand River now East César E. Chávez] and Turner and further upstream the mill last run by W. M. Walton, before that by Christian Madison and before that by a Mr. Hart whose predecessor was a Mr. Hughes.[2]The mill we bought was built in 1890 just in time to get caught in the depression of 1893. At the time our firm bought in the export business was very active so this mill was promptly set to work and more than paid off its cost by 1902 when father abandoned his interest in the mill and found a job as superintendent of the City Water Works. I do not know anything of the operations of the mill during 1902 to 1905 other than that the business became quite run down and lost many of its customers. In 1905 through the interposition of Mr. J L Fulton then manager of the local gas company, father went back in the mill with a controlling interest in the corporation then formed as the Thoman Milling Company.[3]Some few years later, he acquired complete ownership and it was operated by our family until its liquidation in 1957. In 1905 when father took over we also operated the Lake Shore Railroad elevator located on Michigan Ave East just east of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad tracks about where the Briggs Company building now is.[4]This had a U shaped drive off Michigan Ave. We used it for wheat storage and also bought and whipped some grain such as oats, rye etc. After a few years we gave up the rental and shortly afterwards it was torn down. Along about 1927 or so, father suggested that we sell the uptown property and build a mill outside the city since the mill was too close to the center of the city. We had not operated the North Lansing plant since taking over but that also was close to a business district. However I had a strong suspicion of what was about to happen a couple years later and did not want to get involved with a considerable indebtedness that a new mill would entail in the situation that I expected would be arriving. A firm in another Michigan town also family owned as were all mills at that time, built a fine new mill at that time and now is doing a splendid business. but two of the managers died of heart attacks one after the other before the depression was over so I have no regrets. With no one in the family to carry on, by the time the depression had abated enough to even think of an expensive new venture, I had decided that the mill, our old miller and I would grow old together and fortunately I was the one that survived. With now storage to speak of and the movement of wheat coming largely at harvest time due to changes farming, government controls of various types requiring much accounting and reports, operating the mill was more that normally difficult and I was very happy to liquidate. The mill in its earlier days furnished and excellent market for the farmers wheat and winter it was not unusual to see a line of wagons and bobsleds waiting to unload going from the mill south on Grand Street to Michigan and east on Michigan Avenue to beyond the bridge. However as city grew and traffic became more of a problem and the neighboring small towns got grain elevators, less and less wheat came direct from the farmers and finally practically all came by carlot.

The Thoman Mill in 1935 note the Wynkoop, Hallendeck, Crawford Printing Company building in the background (FPLA/CADL)

The mill had other activities than milling. It pumped water for the building of the present old capitol building. It furnished steam to the buildings up Ottawa to Washington and thence north to beyond the middle of the block. It furnished power to print the old Lansing Journalin the building just west of Wynkoop, Hallenbeck & Crawford Printing Company building by means of a shaft that ran through the basement of the intervening building.[5]We also furnished power to the Michigan Knitting Company which was just across the road from the Lansing Journalin the building where Barker Fowler were later located. Just how we jumped the road I don’t know but I presume by another underground shaft so we were an early utility in Lansing. Professor Weil who was head of the Engineering Department at the Michigan Agricultural College for years used to bring his class down each year to take cards off the Corliss engine which for a time was the really up to date engine in the city, this to put in practice some of the learning they got in classes.[6]Some years later possibly around 1915 or somewhat later, we put in city electric power, tore down the cooper shop and our engine room and built the combined space into a warehouse. In addition to our carlot business we always worked the city and state trade hard and sold considerable through those outlets. Somewhere along about 1920 I would guess but I am quite hazy on my dates, having the equipment for making self rising flour for the south we to commenced to make pancake flour this only for the city and state trade. Pancakes were a popular breakfast in those days and we used to make somewhere around 150 ton a season. In the olden days of Graham flour was made in a barrel and bran, middlings and flour were mixed to the judgement of the mixer who considered his own make a very superior article. We brought a small stone mill and then made Graham just as Sylvester Graham decided flour should be made and we sold considerable of that.[7]Of course pancake flour and Graham went the way of white flour. Later on there was quite a wave of propaganda about the loss of vitamins in the preparation of flours and foods so flour was “enriched” by the addition of Vitamin B, mostly B1 and iron. Whether that is still done I can’t say.

Now it is difficult to talk about milling without getting on the subject of wheat and also to speak of general industry conditions. Roughly there are four kinds of wheats – Durum, Hard Spring, Hard Winter and Sort Winter. Durum is raised mostly in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana and has entirely different characteristics from other wheats and is used only for macaroni and similar pastes. Spring Wheat is raised in the same areas as Durum and is an especially strong flour used mostly in bakeries for breads. Hard Winter is raised chiefly in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas and runs on the average less strong than Spring. It is also used mostly for breads in bakeries. The weaker types are also used for domestic flour even in those marked “For Bread and Pastry” but that type is far from being a real pastry flours. Soft Winter Wheat is raised mostly in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri and also the Pacific northwest. Michigan is adapted to raise a soft white wheat which is the best for pastry and this also is claimed by Michigan people to have the best flavor and I believe that claim can be substantiated. Oregon, Washington and Idaho raise the only wheat –also a white wheat comparable for pastry use. The other soft wheat states mentioned raise a somewhat stronger wheat not so well adapted for the finest pastries and piecrusts it is mostly a red wheat. Several years when there was a near failure in the soft wheat belt and especially Michigan, we shipped in and ground considerable Pacific northwest wheat but the soft wheat due to its shortage ran about 50 cents a bushel higher in price than the weaker Hard Winters and at the difference the bakers put in more shortening and got by with the harder wheat flours. Extra shortening –an expensive item will reduce a strong flour to pastry uses. The difference in the three classed used in baking is in the amount and elasticity of the gluten that gemlike substance left in your mouth when you chew up wheat. The variety of wheat sown of course makes a big difference but type of soil and climate are important in retaining the characteristics of any type. High gluten wheats need a soil rich in nitrogen and dry hot weather during ripening. When home baking was an important factor in the consumption of Michigan wheat flour, the Michigan Agricultural College developed some Red Wheats that ran higher in gluten with a good quality and remained fairly stable in gluten strength when raised on strong land. So these were well adapted for homemade bread. However with the abandoning of home baking and the strong demand for the superior pastry wheat for which Michigan is especially adapted, Michigan now sticks to soft white winter varieties. During Governor Groesbeck’s administration as governor, and attempt was made to get the Michigan institutions to use Michigan flour in their baking bread. An accomplished baker from Grand Rapids was hired to demonstrate the needed skill to get results from Michigan Flours which having less gluten and its gluten being a little less elastic had less tolerances and required careful and accurate handling. After trials in the bakeries of several institutions, the Governor ordered the various institutions to use Michigan flours as accurately handled a good leaf was gotten and there was considerable comment from the Governor and his staff on the excellent flavor. However most bakers either did not have the skill or were not willing to use the care necessary to get adequate results. Frankly even the harder varieties if Michigan flour when used in large batches presented a problem to the average baker and after a matter of five or six years the institutions drifted back to the use of Hard Spring Wheat flour.

Now about the milling business in general 60 to 70 years ago almost every village on a stream had a waterpower mill and there were many run by steam where there was no water. These were mostly very small 15 to 50 barrels a day capacity 24 hours basis and known as grist mills. The farmer brought in his wheat and the mill would start up and grind his wheat into flour and keep a portion for grinding and in my time it was usually the offal bran and middlings. These mills would also buy wheat and sell to the local groceries. However the farmer trade was not insignificant. I have seen farmers take home in the fall 500 to 600 # of flour and you know that they would be in for more in the spring. Many cities and larger towns had larger mills that shipped flour in carlots and these were known as merchant mills. These would also do gristing but could not stop and start their mills for special wheat as they kept a uniform blend of wheats for their milling mix, so they would merely exchange their regular flour for the wheat. When I started at the mill, there was a small mill in Laingsburg, two in Mason, one in Eaton Rapids, one in Charlotte, one in Perry, one in Morrice, in Springport, Fowlerville, Howell, Olivet, Lake Odessa and had been one in Williamston so one can see how thick they were. And there were merchant mills in Battle Creek, Jackson, Saginaw, Plainwell, Holland, Dowagiac, the firms with two mills each in Grand Rapids, two in Ann Arbor, two in Flint, one in Portland now all gone. The one in Lowell and the one in Ionia are still running, but I believe these sell largely to bakeries by truckload and do little carlot shipment. The south was a big market for Michigan Flour and I believe there is still a little sold there. If I had an extra finger or tow I could pretty well count the merchant millers of Michigan flour on the fingers of one hand.

What has happened to the Milling business? When I was young we shipped a great deal to the export market Ireland, England, Scotland, Belgium, US of Colombia [United States of Colombia], Cuba etc. We also sold to New York City and the New England States and later on great deal to the southeast states. Our customer in New York City, Grenville Perrin & Company had a standing order with us to ship as often as we had flour to spare. He sold it for pastry use with the guarantee that it would save a dollar a barrel on shortening. The domestic flour was shipped in wooden barrels and the export flour in 203# Osnaburgs a heavy cotton sack. In export flour, the price was always figured on 202# of flour and packed that way as the sack would always gain a pound in crossing the ocean. Since I joined the mill in 1905 we still sold some flour to England and Cuba. However about the start of the century the export business commenced to die. Foreign countries commenced to put a heavy duty on flour and let wheat come in free of course to build up their own milling industry. England especially built some large and excellent port mills. Thus they had the advantage of being able to get their wheat from all over the world wherever it was the cheapest. The exporting countries were Canada, India, Russia, Manchuria, Argentina, Australia, and of course the United States. Since some of their wheats were trodden out by camels, water buffalo etc., the English developed some very efficient cleaning machinery that could take out small stones, wild garlic, and other seeds and also developed washers. I believe this had some effect on U.S. millers as washers were developed here and were among the early installers of one. It was surprising what the washing would get after you thought the wheat was immaculate. The English also became expert blenders of wheat to produce a reasonable uniform flours. 


[1]This was Frank A. Reitz who was married to Frederick Thoman’s sister, Mary. Frank passed way suddenly in December of 1870.

[2]The Hart Mill was owned by Judge Alvin N. Hart and managed by his son Ben Hart. It was sold in 1897 to Senator Arthur D. Hughes, the order of ownership is reversed. Thoman may be referring to Charles E. Madison who managed the Madison Mill. William W. Walton  purchased the Madison Mill in 1913 renaming it the Walton Mill. The mill was torn down in 1937.

[3]This was Jefferson L. Fulton who passed away in Chicago on Christmas Day 1918.

[4]The Briggs Building was located at 400 East Michigan Avenue. Now the site is the entrance to Museum Drive.

[5]The Wynkoop, Hallenbeck & Crawford Printing Company was located at 119-121 E. Ottawa. 

[6]This was Charles Lewis Weil, Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

[7]Graham flour was a course whole wheat flour named for Sylvester Graham a Presbyterian minister a proponent of temperance and vegetarianism. Graham Crackers are named after Sylvester Graham an interesting character in history.