Line drawing illustrating the grist mill process.

From the late 10th-century onwards in Europe, water-powered flour mills, or gristmills, employed the power of moving water to grind grain into useable flour. Their use has been credited as part of a major shift away from harnessing the power of men and animals to that of natural resources (wind being another one) in colonial America. Originally, these mills employed a lot of human labor, as grain and flour needed to be moved manually about the mill. This was time-consuming and expensive. Then in 1790 the automated flour mill appeared, which integrated a complex system of pulleys, buckets, and ropes to move the grain and flour about the mill.

I became interested in this wholly mechanized process a couple years ago after visiting a local mill in nearby Sudbury, MA. I spent an afternoon there with camera in hand, trying to get a feel for the place. Seeing the interior structure in person helped me to appreciate the logistical challenges that grinding grain into flour presented, and I thought it would be a great subject for a technical drawing. But having written before about the accessibility of technical illustration, I thought this complex and intriguing process deserved a looser, more interpretive approach.

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