The 'Country Elevators' became known as the "Sentinels of the Prairie", "Prairie Cathedrals" and "Prairie Skyscrapers". These tall, house-like structures became common features of the railroads and dotted the Great Plains landscape in the latter half of the nineteenth century during the Industrial Revolution in America.
History of Grain Elevators: Mass Production of Wheat
The need for Grain elevators emerged in the mid 1800's in North America when agriculture moved to a cash crop economy following the invention of the Cyrus McCormick Mechanical Reaper. The McCormick reaper machine revolutionized farming methods enabling wheat farmers to begin mass production of grain crops. Their problem was getting their products to market that required long-distance distribution of their produce. The storage of grain and its transportation was both labor intensive and time consuming.
History of Grain Elevators for kids: The Erie Canal
The Construction of the Erie Canal gave farmers a relatively cheap and fast means of transporting their products to market. Joseph Dart lived in Buffalo, which was at the juncture of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes water system. In less than ten years the annual amount of grain received by Buffalo had rose from 112,000 bushels to over 2 million bushels.
History of Grain Elevators for kids: The Idea is born!
Joseph Dart watched the shipping activity, and the tremendous effort required to unload the grain and his idea to mechanize the process and store the grain was born.
History of Grain Elevators for kids: Joseph Dart, Robert Dunbar and Oliver Evans
Joseph Dart was familiar with the steam-powered flour mills invented by Oliver Evans in 1804 and realized that the bucket elevator conveyor belt system could be adapted to move grain and that steam power could drive it. In 1842 he hired the services of mechanical engineer Robert Dunbar to help him with the project. Robert Dunbar had experience of the industry and had been involved in the construction of mills. The Oliver Evans invention of steam-powered flour mills inspired them to invent the first steam-powered grain elevator an important addition to the Industrial Revolution in the United States.
Purpose of the Grain Elevators
The purpose of the steam-powered grain elevators, housed in tall, house-like structures, was to provide a facility to load, unload, handle and store agricultural products such as corn, wheat, oats and barley. The commodities would then be transported to market via boats and the railroad.
Types of Grain Elevators: How did Grain Elevators work by Canals?
There were several different types of grain elevators that were designed to suit the transportation methods. The grain elevators were housed in tall, house-like structures for grain storage that were erected next to canals or railroads. The original design was for unloading grains from boats. These featured an elevating mechanism, that consisted of a moving conveyor belt, called a "marine leg" that protruded from the front of the building.
The "marine leg" had buckets that were attached to a conveyor belt that quickly and continuously moved grain into storage bins
Grain would rise up the "marine leg", powered by a steam engine that was located in the lower floor of the elevator structure
When boats came into the harbor, the "marine leg" would swivel over a boat and into its hull, where grain was stored
The buckets on the conveyor belt scooped, raised, and then deposited grain in continuous motion
Types of Grain Elevators, the 'Country Elevator': How did Grain Elevators work by Railroads?
The concept of the grain elevators was quickly adapted to be used to transport grains from local farms on the Great Plains into the storage system ready to send to distant markets via trains. This type of system was called the country elevator which typically contained a "boot" into which farmers deposited their crop as opposed to the "marine leg". These tall, 2 or 3 story, rectangular-shaped structures ranged from 40 - 60 feet high which led to the nicknames of "Prairie Cathedrals" and "Prairie Skyscrapers"
Above the lower workhouse section, a 'headhouse' (cupola) was constructed topped by a gable roof.
The workhouse contained a conveyor belt and bucket system driven by machinery that lifted the grains from the "boot" to the headhouse
The grains were spouted to a series of bins in the headhouse for bulk storage
The storage bins had openings from which which the grain emptied into chutes connected to waiting railroad cars
Grain Elevators for kids
The passage of the Interstate Commerce Act addressed the monopoly the railroad companies had over the Grain Elevators.
Facts about Grain Elevators
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Grain Elevators.
The initial use of the invention changed the speed at which a barge could be unloaded, from a rate of 1,800 bushels per day by manual labor, to 1,000 bushels per hour using the mechanical elevator.
Prior to 1842 grain was stored in warehouses known as flathouses prior to being transported to market.
The use of smaller sized grain elevators were quickly appreciated, which led to the emergence of the 'country elevator' which replaced the flathouses in the wheat producing farming areas
The country elevator house-like structure was initially originally made of wood, but due to the fire hazard and need for weather proofing, were later iron-clad or steel-clad structures and then eventually built with concrete
During the building boom of the Railroads, the country elevator were built at terminal points in the grain producing 'bread bucket' of the United States.
The structures were built roughly every ten miles at railroad terminal points to enable farmers to deliver his harvest by horse and wagon and return home the same day.
The Railroad companies provided the land for the construction of country elevators together with specially designed grain cars for transporting crops to distant markets via the railroad
In 1857 a wheat-grading system was introduced so that one farmerís crop could be combined and stored in bulk with another farmerís crop of the same grade.
The Railroad companies headed by Robber Barons gained a monopoly on the grain elevator system together with the Grain elevator operators that bought the grain from farmers and then sold the produce on to distant markets
Unscrupulous operators would use their purchasing power to control prices.
The Granger movement, a coalition of U.S. farmers, was established in 1867 to fight against the monopolistic grain transport practices. The movement was supported by the farmers of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, and the Dakotas
The Interstate Commerce Commission was created by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 to regulate railroads to ensure fair rates
The gas-powered engines were replaced in the early 1900s by electric motors