Oct 21, 2011 • By

A millstone mystery

Milling is at the core of our company history, dating back to Cadwallader Washburn on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis in the 1860s.

But the origins of milling in the U.S. go back much further than that.

W.L. Glover found sections of a wooden mill gear on his farm near Orangeburg, S.C. in 1939. He was digging in the area where an old mill pond used to be before it dried up.

The 19 foot wide wooden cogs were found under two feet of sand. It was estimated that they had possibly been made 300 years earlier, roughly between 1640 and 1690.

At the time, there were no gears in the U.S. known to be older than 200 years old.

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. believed the wooden gear wheel was used to turn millstones.

The rims of the wooden gear wheels are one solid piece of wood, southern live oak, with mortise cut in perfectly to exact size and taper. They were the teeth for the cog.

The author of a 1940 article in our company publication, The Modern Millwheel, implied that the historic wooden gear could possibly be related to the Lost Colony at Roanoke Island in North Carolina (1587 – 1591). It was suggested that an industrious man must have survived the fated colony and built the gears in a new settlement.

A report in the Feb. 9, 1940 Reading Eagle called the wheel “one of the oldest pieces of machinery in America” but suggested it may never have been used because it appeared to be unfinished.

Editor’s note: Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email. Also, visit our History page on GeneralMills.com.