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.
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.
Grain Elevators for kids: The Erie Canal
Construction of the Erie Canal gave
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.
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
Grain Elevators for kids: Joseph Dart, Robert Dunbar and Oliver Evans
Joseph Dart was
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
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.
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
the 'Country Elevator':
Grain Elevators work by Railroads?
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
Above the lower
workhouse section, a 'headhouse' (cupola) was constructed
topped by a gable roof.
contained a conveyor belt and bucket system driven by
machinery that lifted the grains from the "boot" to the
The grains were
spouted to a series of bins in the headhouse for bulk
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
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
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
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.
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