Grain Milling Industry

In the 1800s grain mills were found all over Iowa. Along the Mississippi River towns produced flour from the grain brought to the mill by area farmers. By the 1880s the mills began to disappear.


In the mid-1800s Iowa was one of the biggest wheat producing states in the nation and the milling industry continued to expand. Towns along the larger rivers in the state became big milling centers that processed grain. Davenport became a major clearinghouse for grain that was shipped east and south in the United States and even to Europe. Gradually the miller’s dependence on water for power declined and gave way to more efficient steam power. In 1873 the North Star Oatmeal Company, impressed by the quality of oats local farmers were producing, decided to open an oatmeal mill in Cedar Rapids. The North Star Plant was the largest cereal mill in the world. And it eventually became the Quaker Oats Company, still a well-known name in the cereal industry. By 1890 many of the old mills replaced their round millstones with more efficient roller mills, which produced a finer grade of flour. In the 1880s severe drought, followed by invasions of chinch bugs, destroyed much of the Iowa wheat crop. Because of the decline in wheat production, the number of grist mills that once could be found in almost every town also declined.

The Iowa Heritage Industrial Heritage

Iowa PBS