January 27, 2016

27/01/2016: Milling journals of the past at The Mills Archive: Rice milling around the World: The early uses of waterpower


by Mildred Cookson, The Mills Archive, UK

First published in Milling and Grain, November 2015

In the previous issue of Milling and Grain, I mentioned that the Mills Archive library holds a number of books, catalogues and images on rice production from all corners of the world. This article moves on from the early primitive methods that I illustrated last time, to examine the introduction of waterpower in rice milling. Next month I will look at what our holdings show of the early stages of industrialisation of rice milling.

Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza sativa (Asian rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African rice). As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in Asia. It is the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize.

A good friend in Japan gave me samples which show rice in its various states from fresh grains of rice with their husk on to the finished, polished rice. I have tried, with the help of our Archivist, to translate the writing on the packets. They are shown here to make the point that, as an educational institution, the Mills Archive tries to set its holdings into context. If anyone can help with a more detailed account, we would be happy to add it to our website (https:// millsarchive.org/explore/features-and-articles).

There are dozens of articles on rice milling in early editions of The Miller (for example Volume 8, 1882, pages: 70, 352, 431, 526, 604 and 927). Most emphasise the large gulf between primitive Asian technology and modern European milling methods, without acknowledging the rapid development of the uses of waterpower well before their adoption in the West. Needham (Science and Civilisation in China, 1965) points out that some modern western historians of technology erroneously inform us that “the water-wheel certainly travelled east”. This would have been a surprise to the Chinese at least by 20 CE when Huan Tan wrote “Afterwards the power of animals - donkeys, mules, oxen and horses - was applied by means of machinery, and water-power too used for pounding, so that the benefit was increased a hundred-fold."

Read the full article in Milling and Grain HERE.

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