The History of the Modern Grain Elevator

November 5, 2019 10:21 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

It’s hard to overstate the importance of agriculture in the United States, particularly in the South and Midwest. Over the last 160 years, the invention of grain elevators and conveyor parts in Lubbock, TX and beyond has not only produced a practical grain storage and conveyance solution, but has also contributed to the American skyline in an unexpected way.

The early days

Before grain elevators, grain was stored in bags or bins. Grain elevators make it possible to store grains in bulk. A grain elevator is a building in which grain is stockpiled and stored, but the phrase can also refer to a tower in which an elevator scoops up the grain and deposits it into a storage facility. While early grain elevators were made of wood, and therefore prone to fire, modern ones are made of steel and concrete. Over the years, their simple technology and utility have been responsible for helping store food for millions.

The first steam-powered grain elevator was invented and constructed in 1843, in Buffalo, NY. Joseph Dart, Jr. is credited as the first person to adapt an earlier grain elevator design for commercial use, and Robert Dunbar constructed it. “Dart’s Elevator” was seven times faster than the other grain elevators on the market. Coupled with Buffalo’s proximity to the Erie Canal, this opened up a vast new world of commercial grain shipping opportunities. As the railroads expanded, so too did the new grain elevator technology.

Further developments

As the technology caught on, grain elevators were built near waterways and railroad lines. Between 1900 and 1928, Buffalo’s grain production skyrocketed from 111 million bushels of wheat to 280 million. At the same time, flour milling also experienced a boom—Buffalo soon surpassed Minneapolis as the nation’s top flour provider.

Before the 1890s, grain elevators were primarily made of wood. This was a less-than-ideal situation, given timber’s propensity for catching fire. One wooden grain elevator in Buffalo was erected in 1895, and then completely burned down four years later, resulting in untold financial damage. After experiencing many more devastating fires (including anti-monopoly protest arson in Nebraska), the trend turned toward steel and concrete. This had the added bonus of making the grain elevators more impervious to rodents and insects. While more expensive to construct, it also saved owners tens of thousands of dollars on insurance each year.

2019 and beyond

Today, Buffalo remains not only the birthplace of the modern grain elevator, but it is also the American city with the single largest number of existing grain elevators. If you’re interested in history, be sure to visit “Elevator Alley,” a section of the Buffalo River with a cluster of historic grain elevators.

At M.B. McKee Company, Inc., we have a passion and respect for agriculture that can’t be beat. When you need commercial mechanical components and conveyor parts in Lubbock, TX, contact us. We have the finest service around. Coupled with our eye toward solutions and our wide variety of components, you’ll soon see why our customers have been coming back for decades.

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