The history of flour milling in this country shows that the mills have located where the wheat grew, taking advantage of what water power was available. After the Erie Canal was finished in 1825, it was discovered that there were about 50 inches of waterfall between the Canal, where it was drawn off at Black Rock and the Niagara River. This head (of water) was utilized for many years by a thriving group of flour mills.
A view of Black Rock harbor in 1825. Perhaps if the village had utilized the power of the Niagara River, here where the current was very swift, Black Rock might have had a bigger presence in the grain industry. (BECHS)
The fall was short, but the volume of water was great and broad water wheels furnished sufficient power for mills which seem today small, but which in those days constituted am important factor in the industry. Practically all of these mills which were situated at the foot of Ferry and Amherst streets have burned down and even the names of them are fading from memory. There were the Globe and North Buffalo mills owned by the predecessors of the present Thornton and Chester Milling Company, the Niagara, Queen City, Erie, Clinton and Frontier Mills in which were trained the men or out of which grew firms which carried on the milling industry in Buffalo down to the present time.
About the same time, or a little later, the Genesee River at Rochester furnished the power for several mills which gave the city the reputation as the leading milling center. In those days the wheat was raised in this state or brought in from Ohio and Indiana. As the bulk of the wheat crop began to be raised further west, the milling centers successively moved to Toledo, Chicago and then St. Louis, and later on, with the development of spring wheat in the northwest, to Minneapolis.
The Thornton and Chester Milling Company, located at 572 Evans Slip. (WNYHI)
During the past fifteen or twenty years a trend in the opposite direction has begun, moving the center of gravity of milling east instead of west, to take advantage of the cheap transportation afforded by the Great Lakes. This, of course, means Buffalo.It is cheaper to bring grain to Buffalo and mill it here, and then ship by rail or canal to seaboard center of population, then to convert the grain into flour near the source of supply.
The wheat that came into this port originated first in Ohio and later the states tributary to the port of Chicago, then from Milwaukee, finally from Duluth and the Great American Northwest and last of all from Fort William and Port Arthur and the Canadian western provinces. This wheat which started coming down in small boats a few thousand bushels at a time is now carried in great cargoes as much as 500,000 to a boat and unloaded at elevators along the harbor and transferred by (railroad) car or barge to the various mills or in one case run directly from the elevator by a belt to the adjacent mill. Now all the wheat that is grown in the United States, whether in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, Kansas, or the northwest, can brought to Buffalo, either by rail or by boat. Furthermore, this port is readily accessible to Canadian wheat brought down by boat from Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario.
When wheat is milled it is separated into approximately 70 per cent of various grades of flour and 30 per cent of feed, so when a cargo of wheat comes down the lakes to Buffalo, there has been transported not only the flour with which to feed the populous center of the east, but also the feed for the dairy sections of New York, Pennsylvania and New England.
Anchored off the shores of Buffalo, these freighters are forced to wait out the winter. Grain was kept on board until the spring thaw or until space was available at a local elevator.
When navigation is closed on the lakes, mills are able to secure their requirements of wheat from the large elevator storage that exists at this port, or from the boat storage, because on the last trip down the lakes, boats take on cargoes of grain to be carried through the winter and unloaded at the convenience of the elevator.
The Milling Process
A flour mill is a plant that calls for many different kinds of labor, skilled and unskilled, and effects directly or indirectly many other lines of business and consequently the prosperity of the country. If the surplus wheat that this country raises can be milled here and then forwarded as flour, it means more work and more prosperity for our own people than if the same quantity of wheat went abroad without being transferred into flour and feed.
The Philip Houck Milling Co. at 285 Lathrop Street. Interesting of note are the canvas sacks of flour on the back of the horse cart - perhaps on their way to a local bakery. (WNYHI)
In a modern mill the actual milling process are all done by machinery under the supervision of experienced men, but this is only part of the operation. Beginning with the wheat, there is the elevator and the marine tower with its leg which goes into the hold of the vessel and lifts the wheat out on and endless chain of buckets. A modern elevator with its scores of separate tanks and conveyors to shift the wheat from on tank to another, is a complicated operation in itself.
After the wheat is run over to the mills, cleaned, washed and put through the rolls, sifted and bolted and put through other finer rolls and finer sifting and all the complicated processes of modern milling, it comes into the bins for packing into bags and barrels. This is not so simple as it would seem, because of the various requirements of the trade mean that many kinds of packages, from 2 lbs. up to 220 lbs., have to be packed -- some paper, some cotton, some jute and some wooden barrels. Besides there is a great variety of brands, with different names and designs that are wanted by different classes of trade. These packages must then all be loaded into freight cars that have been cleaned and papered.
The Washburn-Crosby Company flour mill, now known as General-Mills.
Buffalo is the grain center of America. Last year (1923) 270,000,000 bushels of grain passed through this port of which 180,000,000 bushels was wheat. This tonnage of wheat was equivalent to one-fifth of the average annual wheat production of the United States for the past five years. The first elevator was erected in 1842 on the Buffalo River and Evans Slip, the invention of Joseph Dart of this city. It had a storage capacity of 50,000 bushels and 2,000 bushels an hour could be elevated. Today (1924), Buffalo has the world's greatest grouping of giant elevators, through which flow, every year, nearly 300,000,000 bushels of grain. There are eighteen lake elevators with a total capacity of over 240,000,000 bushels. In addition, there area 16 smaller elevators individually operated with a total capacity of 4,000,000 bushels, giving Buffalo a total of 34 elevators having a storage capacity of nearly 40,000,000 bushels.
Flour mills currently in operation in Buffalo are (1927):
- Washburn-Crosby Company
- Pillsbury Company
- Russell-Miller Milling Company
- George-Urban Milling Company
- Hecker-Jones-Jewell Milling Company
- Thornton & Chester Milling Company
- J. A. Walter Milling Company
The Russell-Miller Milling Company flour mill.
In the immediate vicinity, that is, Tonawanda, Niagara Falls and Lockport, there are other important mills that bring their wheat down the lakes just as Buffalo mills do. Of course, Buffalo mills supply practically all the flour consumed here, whether in the bakeshops or in the homes, but besides this they ship all through the northeastern part of the United States, so that a large percentage of the flour used in New England and New York State is made at Buffalo. Furthermore, Buffalo's exports constitute a very important item, the products of her mills being found in many foreign countries, near and far.
The Hecker H.O. Milling Company, makers of H.O. Oats Cereals.
Cereal companies have located in Buffalo because if the influence of milling. The Hecker H-O Company, the Mapl-Flake Company and the Shredded Wheat Company saw the advantage of being located midway between the great grain-growing section and the eastern centers of the population. Here at Buffalo the supply of raw materials come from so many grain-producing centers that a perfect selection can be made. This guarantees the excellence of their manufacture.
The Standard Elevator, perhaps Buffalo's most accessible, as seen from St. Clair Street. When the elevator closed in 1981, it was purchased by Pillsbury who renamed it the Pillsbury Standard.
The Standard Milling Company of New York will soon erect a flour mill and grain elevator on its site or eight and one-half acres on the Buffalo River at the Louisiana Street bridge. The elevator is expected to have a storage capacity of 5 million bushels of wheat and the mill is planned for an initial capacity of at least 10,000 bushels daily with the possibility of 20,000 or more daily.
Live Stock Feeds
Here the influence of the milling industry is again evident. This relatively new industry has made enormous strides during the past quarter century and Buffalo's place in that progress is evident. Poultry and cattle rations are in demand throughout the large agricultural sections which lie east of Buffalo. As New York is the second dairy state in the Union, enormous quantities of highly specialized rations are used. As wheat and by-products will always serve as an important part of all the best live stock rations, and as Buffalo's milling industries are essential for this supply, it is easily seen why Buffalo has become a center of the live stock feed industry.
The New York Central stock yards were located on William Street where the main office of the post office is now. It is here that some of the feed produced in Buffalo was used.
As the nearby agricultural districts develop to that thriving state which their advantages foretell, there will be a proportionate development of the live stock industry in Buffalo. Even the backyard poultry and the little family truck-gardens which are appearing in ever increasing numbers around us will have an influence.
The following is a list of the live stock feed manufacturers in Buffalo (1927):
- The Park & Pollard Company Inc.
- Mapl-Flake Mills, Inc.
- Eastern States Co-op Milling Company
- Maritime Milling Company, Inc.
- Ralston Purina Company
- The Hecker-H. O. Company
- Co-op. G. L. F. Exchange, Inc.
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Some of the photographs contained on this page were used with permission from
The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society and
The Western New York Heritage Institute