March 20, 2015

20/03/2015: Milling in northern Europe: a historical overview published in Milling and Grain, February 2015

Northern Europe has a unique place in the history of milling. Fortunately there are sufficient remnants of the distant past to stimulate interest. Although much is now consigned to museums and archives such as the Mills Archive (, many European countries feature active groups of professionals and amateurs keeping traditional skills and techniques alive!
In 1972 a group of volunteers set up Gilde van Vrijwillige Molenaars in the Netherlands. This “guild of volunteer millers” ( runs training courses and provides proficiency certificates, which are required by most Dutch mills.  In the UK in 1987, I helped to set up the Traditional Cornmillers Guild for professional millers operating traditional wind or water-powered flourmills, and this is still going strong (

Before the middle of the 19th century such traditional mills were vital to the rural economies of Europe and the subsequent “roller flour mill revolution” has been well described by Rob Shorland-Ball in previous issues of this magazine. The tide of technology and economic necessity stimulated by the Industrial Revolution ensured the rapid adoption of new more efficient milling techniques across the continent.
In the United Kingdom as well as the rest of Northern Europe, these changes took place over several decades. Almost all villages would have had their own wooden post mill supplying the local community with its flour. With growing populations, villages and towns expanded and new canals and railway systems appeared, allowing grain to be brought to the mills instead of relying on local crops. Soon new mills were built next to rivers and canals for easy unloading of imported cereals. With these new mills came the opportunity to install the new roller mills. 

As early as 1820 several roller mills were invented, in Switzerland, Austria and France but none worked well enough to go into production. An important breakthrough in design came in 1834 when a Swiss engineer, Sulzberger, used three pairs of steel rollers (two smooth, one fluted) with a speed differential. Although these were adjustable, they did not give under pressure and had no feed control. Even so, Müller of Warsaw built several of these mills in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Hungary.  The roller mill was still not accepted yet as ‘The Miller’ journal stated in 1876 – “there is a lack of adaptability and intelligence of the workmen”.
The breakthrough came in 1873 when another Swiss, Frederick Wegman, developed a roller mill with porcelain roller, where the pressure was kept constant. Together with Ganz & Mechwart of Budapest the roller mill was improved; now recognisable as the modern roller mill (see Rob’s article in the previous issue of Milling and Grain, page 24), it was soon advertised and used all over Northern Europe. In 1878 there were 9,000 flour and provender mills recorded, by 1887 there were 461 roller process mills and Milling magazine suggested that in 1901 there were over 1000 complete roller mills in the British Isles.

Roller milling transformed flour production across Northern Europe, and gradually the likes of Simon, Buhler etc., with their roller systems allowing proper adjustment and requiring less attention, offered higher capacity, and more grades of flour. The roller flour revolution had begun and was here to stay.

In my travels across Europe during the 1980’s and again in early 2000 I saw that in many villages in Hungary, Germany, France and Denmark the wooden post mills were still being used, adapted to roller milling to grind local cereals such as wheat, rye and spelt.

The Mills Archive is intending to set up an archive devoted to the history of roller flour milling across the world. A heritage spanning almost 200 years has been sadly neglected and we plan to offer a safe home to documents and images that cover not only the transition from traditional to modern flour milling, but also the stories of the people and firms involved in the drive for more efficient flour production.

If you can help in any way or would like to know more please email

Read the magazine HERE.

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