Editor’s note: This is a reprint of a story that was originally printed in the Hannibal Courier-Post’s 100th anniversary edition in 1938.
Because of the aftermath of the world war which caused havoc to export markets, and the change in public preference in flour products, Hannibal today has no flour mills, but at the turn of the century there were three. The buildings which housed this industry still stand but all are used for other purposes. (2001 All three are now demolished)
The last to cease operation was the Empire Mill on East Broadway, operated by the Hannibal Milling company, which turned out its last flour in September of 1929. The building now is occupied by the Marion County Farm Bureau Service company.
Five years earlier, in 1924, the Eagle Mill, located in the 100 block on South Third street, operated by the Carter-Shepherd Milling company, had discontinued business. This building is now occupied by the Farmers Elevator and Exchange company.
The Hannibal Ice and Cold Storage company now occupies the building at Lyon and South Fourth streets where once the Magnolia Mills, operated by Pindell Brothers company was active in turning out flour. The mill ceased business about 1900 and the structure was vacant until 1905 when the ice company took it over.
Into these three mills once poured a steady golden stream of wheat to be turned into flour for tables of America and the world.
Bought Area Harvest
Located in the “soft wheat country”, Hannibal was a market for most of the wheat produced in this area and after the surrounding crops had been purchased by the mills, wheat was bought from sections as far distant as the state of Washington.
Organized in 1875 by S. M. Carter and David Dubach, the Empire Mill was taken over in 1889 by a group composed of F. L. Dubach, David Dubach, O. M. Friend, J. C. Helm and W. Adolph Schmidt.
The Eagle Mills had been erected in 1864 by the firm of Carter Bryce and Pindell, which later became Carter, Pindell and Company and finally the Carter-Shepherd company.
The Magnolia Mill began operation in 1867.
When the three mills were operating on 24-hour schedules which was customary during the busy season after the wheat harvest, the total output was about 1,600 barrels per day. Although much of the flour was marketed in sacks, a barrel of 198 pounds capacity was the unit of production.
Discussing the decline in milling recently, J. M. Richards, former secretary-treasurer, and S. E. Friend, former head miller, of the Empire Mill, put most of the blame on the loss of export markets after the world war; the increase of bakery-made products and the decreased demand for biscuits and hot breads for every meal.
Sold In South
“A large part of our sales went to the south and southeast”, Richards said, “where in the days before the war nearly every family had biscuits and hot breads for every meal. These foods were made best from soft wheat flour.”
“During the war people of the south had to conserve on flour like everybody else and the custom of having hot biscuits was not so generally observed. Then, too, bakeries began to appear in greater numbers and housewives began to do less and less baking at home,” Richards explained.
Friend added, “with most city dwellers buying bread from the bakery there was less demand for soft wheat flour, as most bakeries use hard wheat flour for bread.”
The Empire Mill sold a great deal of its output abroad, especially to England, Ireland and Scotland. During the war Canada began to gain prominence as a wheat producing country and it was a natural result that the British Isles bought from their sister dominion instead of the United States.
Hit By Big Mills
But it was when the big American mills, many of them located in Minnesota, lost their export markets that small mills like those in Hannibal began to find the hardest sledding.
Cut off from markets in foreign countries, the big mills began to concentrate more on the domestic market and small mills were unable to compete successfully.
Speaking of the decline in local milling, Richards said: “For example, we used to have a wholesale customer in Atlanta, Ga., who ordered 5,000 to 20.000 barrels of flour at a time, sometimes reordering once or twice in a year. I talked to him about two years ago and he told me that if he sells more than a carload of flour a year now it is unusual.
Friends Had Invention
Another mill project which the war caused to end abruptly was the manufacture of a wheat cleaner and temperer invented and patented by S. E. Friend and his father, O. M. Friend, while the latter was head miller at the Empire Mill.
This device, which consolidated several operations of cleaning and tempering wheat into one, was manufactured here in the machine shop of Al Bernauer and the Friends were preparing to expand production when the aftermath of the war took its toll of small mills.
Even so, the device became widely known and several are still in use.