February 24, 2015

24/02/2015: The roller flour milling revolution

by Rob Shorland-Ball for Milling and Grain
First published in Milling and Grain, January 2015 

Name 6 Hungarians who made significant international contributions to their country.
Laszlo Biro; Zsa Zsa Gabor; Abram Ganz; Ferenc Liszt; Andras Mechwart; Erno Rubik.

Would a contemporary roller flour miller, or a world grain dealer, have known the names of Abram Ganz and Andras Mechwart? Perhaps not, because the answers lie in Hungary
I mentioned in my previous contribution to the magazine that: “I am spending 5 days in Budapest exploring, and photographing, the surviving roller mill sites and buildings in a city which was once the centre of European roller flour milling.” That visit was very successful; I did not meet Ganz or Mechwart because they died, respectively, in 1867 and 1907, but I saw several of the buildings to which they made important contributions and have subsequently found map and picture evidence of Budapest’s lead in developing roller flour milling and influencing the United Kingdom.

The map extract in Figure 1 shows [Jozsef] Henger Malom, the first steam-powered roller mill in Budapest which first milled flour on 15 September 1841. Immediately North West is a later Mill owned by Karoly [Charles] Haggenmacher the Swiss-born miller and inventor; this Mill illustrates the fact that by the 1890s Budapest was one of the world’s leading roller flour milling centres.

An artist’s impression of the new Jozsef mill which I was shown in Budapest may not be accurate but gives an impression of its size, and confirms that the milling machinery was steam-powered. More relevant to the above quiz question; is that Abram Ganz, Swiss-born like Haggenmacher joined the Joszef Mill’s extensive workshops in 1841 so learned something of the flour milling business in a technologically advanced mill. 
By 1844 Ganz had his own foundry in Pesth, the part of what is now Budapest to the east of the River Danube and began to manufacture roller mill stands which were advertised, and adopted in the United Kingdom.

Nineteenth century advertisements, perhaps partly because there were then many fewer channels of media communication, are useful sources of additional information for historical research:
  • Gustav Adolf Bucholz was a Prussian engineer who set up an agency in the UK to import and install European rolling milling machinery
  • “Chilled Iron Rollers” were Ganz’s invention which ensured a true and hard-wearing surface for the rollers in Ganz Roller Mill frames.
  • Andras Mechwart (from the quiz question) was a German-born engineer who was invited to Hungary by Ganz in 1859 to work with him and, after the latter’s death in 1867, Mechwart headed the Ganz factory as Managing Director for 25 years. He was the co-author of a number of inventions and improvements to the roller flour milling processes and the reference in the advertisement is to a patented invention to adjust the nip of the rolls and reduce friction so save power.
  • “Smooth” roller mills were generally for reduction of middlings and semolina to flour. Ganz also manufactured “fluted” rolls for breaking the wheat berries in the first stages of the gradual reduction process.
  • The concluding paragraph in the advertisement illustrates the progress of the roller flour milling revolution where Ganz’s chilled iron roller mills are “. . . entirely taking the place of Millstones ...”
Although the bullet points above from the Bucholz & Co advertisement are all relevant and correct, advertisements may be suspect as historical research sources because they are product-focused and unlikely to be objective. Other sources, like the Proceedings of professional institutions, are generally sound and in the 19th century the changes in the flour industry which I have embraced by the term Roller Flour Milling Revolution were occasioning learned comment:

“it has been erroneously supposed that, the Hungarians, had, by some imaginary secret processes, been able to eclipse the corn-millers of all other nations. It may be well to state here that there are no such secret processes but that the Hungarians have produced flours still unsurpassed in excellence by skilful manipulation of their native wheats (which, though yielding very bad flour when ground by old methods, possess admirable qualities).
The processes used in Hungary are based on the principle of dividing the flour produced from the same wheat into 8 or 10 or 12 different qualities. The fine qualities, which command very high prices, find their market ... in certain parts of the United Kingdom.
Now the English miller must manufacture for local demand; for, having already incurred the cost of freight, and carriage on the wheat in bringing it to his mill (wheat which he may have to buy in competition with his foreign competitor), he cannot afford to pay another freight on the flour to carry it to a distant place of consumption where he will meet again the competition of the Hungarian or American miller, who can send flour direct to the same place and thus incur only one freight on it (and that freight less than the wheat freight).”
- from: Proceedings of Institute of Civil Engineers Vol LXX. 16 May 1882 by William Proctor Baker (miller)
So back to my researches in Budapest and the development of roller flour milling in the city during the mid nineteenth century:
Like Royal Steam Mill in Figure 3, all Budapest mills operated on a large scale: they ran on steam, they worked non-stop, and they conducted business both in domestic and international markets. Several different economic factors together contributed to the development and success of this large-scale mill industry:
  • Transport developments: Modernising transportation began with the Danubian steamships in the 1830s, but the real transformation was brought about by the rise of rail transportation, which decreased shipping time. Since wheat in Hungary was harvested earlier than in Western Europe, both Hungarian (wheat) and flour were able to reach Western European markets before the competition. From the 1850s intensive urban development began which resulted in the construction of new roads, wharfs, ports, bridges, rail yards, warehouses, etc. Budapest became the main transportation hub of the country.
  • Crop trade developments: The cities of Pest and Buda (known as Budapest from 1873) provided an ideal setting for large-scale mill production, as the city gradually became the centre of nationwide crop trade, which meant that the mills had a steady supply of grain at all times.
  • Capital entrepreneurship: from the 1850s onwards, Pest merchants, gained increasing prominence and began to form a capitalised entrepreneurial circle investing in various industrial enterprises. Members of this circle became the primary investors in the mill industry. By the time of the union of Pest and Buda (1873), Budapest was already the economic capital of the country in every aspect.
  • Technological innovations: The Budapest steam mill industry developed ... thrived ... and advanced by the continued development and implementation of important technological innovations (such as the work of Ganz and Mechwarts and the willingness to bring in expertise from Switzerland like the inventions and roller mill improvements of Hans Caspar Escher, Salomon von Wyss, Jakob Sulzenberger and Adolf Buhler. (More quiz names!)
Edited from: The Global Agricultural Crisis and the Steam Mill Industry of Budapest in the Nineteenth Century: Influence and Response Judit Klement (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of History) 2014

Miller Baker commented on the number of grades of Hungarian flour which gradual reduction millers could produce. 

We know that imported Hungarian flour was popular in the UK and, with imported Hungarian hard wheat, represented a serious economic threat to country mills still  using millstones and trying to produce saleable white flour.

However, Hungary was in turn facing powerful competition from the United States. Mills in and around Minneapolis intensively increased their grinding capacity from the 1880s onwards. Key factors in the Minneapolis boom were new achievements of economic development characterising the years of peace after the Civil War; crops grown in enormous swathes of agricultural lands in the west; an efficient rail network which made the transport of crops from the west and mid-west to the East Coast possible; and steamboats shipping grains to Europe.
Thanks to US railways and steam boat companies, American flour producers were able to keep their prices lower than the Hungarian competition, despite increasing customs duties. Their favourable pricing also benefited from the fact that production was nearly fully automatic, which ensured non-stop, large-scale, production and low production costs. In addition, North American grain was as hard as its Hungarian counterpart, and was suitable for producing similarly high-quality flour.

Paragraph above edited from: The Global Agricultural Crisis and the Steam Mill Industry of Budapest in the Nineteenth Century: Influence and Response Judit Klement (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of History) 2014

Helped by my recent research visit to Budapest I have been able to witness, and to learn more about, the mid-19th century flour milling industry in the city.

Ferencvaros is the District of Budapest, south of the centre of the city and on the low-lying east bank of River Danube where many of the new steam roller flour mills were built. The area was nicknamed “The stomach of Budapest.” The first large mill in Ferencvaros, Concordia, was built in 1865 in Soroksari Road which is just in-shore of the railway tracks and warehouses. As the proximity of the river made it faster to transport the grain, and flour, many other mills were built in Soroksari Road. The second big mill, the Mill of Millers and Bakers of Budapest started grinding in 1868. The Gizella and Kiraly mills were opened in 1880 and the last one, Hungaria was built in 1893. 

As an important complement to the big mills of Ferencvaros, the largest warehouse in Budapest, the Elevator House was built in 1883 and was the most prominent shore-side building until it was demolished in 1948.

http://issuu.com/gfmt/docs/mag1501/28This multi-storey warehouse at Boraros Square was one of the tallest buildings of the capital. It contained 290 bins with an overall storage capacity of 36,000 cubic metres. The scoops of the 3 machine-operated paternoster lifts unload 65 tons of grain every hour from the ships. The grain is weighed by automatic scales then taken by 10 other paternoster lifts, at the speed of 80-85 tons per hour, then finally, through tubes it is elevated into the cells. 

From railway wagons, the grain is taken to the scales, from there to the paternosters, which deliver it through the tubes to the cells. 

The cells are emptied into sacks through the scales again. The whole operation is run without human power.

Edited from: Budapest Muszaki Vtmutatoja [The Technical Guide of Budapest] edited by Illes Aladar Edvi Budapest, 1896 

The Elevator House was damaged by bombing in WWII and subsequently demolished in 1948 but the mills in Soroksari Road remain and, apart from Concordia, have been converted into apartments and offices. Figure 4 is a poster advertisement for Gizella Malom and Figure 5 is my photograph of the converted mill taken in 2014.

http://issuu.com/gfmt/docs/mag1501/28Concordia, one of the largest remaining mills contains Budapest Museum of Milling, now closed to the public but still containing an internationally significant collection of mill machinery and records in the care of the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture. I was privileged to visit the collection in Concordia with Andrea Korosi, Deputy Director of the Museum and Dr. Tibor Sebok, former Director of the Museum of Milling and from a milling and mill-engineering family.
Concordia Mill was working between 1866 and 1929 and then became a warehouse. It was rail-connected and was close to River Danube and the Elevator House. 

Today it has a variety of office and warehouse uses but the structure is deteriorating so there is concern for the long-term future of the Museum of Milling collections.

There is much more to tell of Budapest’s roller flour milling history and although it was relatively short-lived we can learn from Hungarian experiences in researching the Roller Flour Milling Revolution in the UK.

Since this is an international journal I would like to conclude by publicly thanking my hosts and guides in Budapest:
  • Zsofia Potsa – General Secretary – Hungarian Grain & Feed Association [see International Milling Directory]
  • Andrea Korosi (Deputy Director), Laszlo Szabo (Curator, Milling); Gabor Gergely (Curator, Maps & Papers) – Museum of Hungarian Agriculture
  • Tibor Sebok – former Director, Museum of Milling
  • Gabor  and Judit Zsigsmund – contacts via BKV Zrt

All were welcoming, very patient and very helpful; thank you again!

Read the magazine HERE.

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