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5 lesser known figures of the Industrial Revolution

Hello everyone. My name is Hannah and I’m yet another intern at the Mills Archive this year! Unlike many previous interns, I have not come from Reading University nor their internship scheme. Instead I am a Reading girl, just returned from the wilds of the West Country. I was studying a Degree in History and Ancient History at Exeter University, where I graduate from in a matter of days! I volunteered with the archive last year, undertaking a project to re-catalogue the numerous journals and booklets held in the library and I was honoured to be asked back this year and offered an internship.

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My internship is being funded by the grant received from the Garfield Weston Foundation to aid the Archive’s roller mill project and expansion of their archive. My role will be to eventually produce some web pages about the roller flour mill archive here and promote our interest in this field. I say eventually as at the moment I’m still getting to grips with the roller flour mill process and history along with the material already in the archive! This has all been very interesting, if not a little daunting given its sometimes very technical history. However, what has jumped out at me through my overview of the topic is the great importance that individuals played in the roller mill revolution.

History is frequently viewed through the actions of key individuals or ‘great men’ such as Caesar or Churchill. Leaving aside the issue that this view often ignores ‘great women’ in history, such as Cleopatra or Catherine the Great, the other danger of this view is the issue of the word ‘great’ and what defines being ‘great’ meaning that some people may be neglected. Take the Industrial Revolution for example, figures such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and James Watt are well-known and even feature on the BBC Historic Figure List.

However, there is no room for Henry (Heinrich) Simon or his friend Gustav Daverio. Daverio created the first three roll mill whilst Henry Simon was instrumental in bringing the roller mill to Britain and making advancements on Daverio’s original design. Simon fitted his first roller mill in England in 1878 for Mr. Arthur McDougall and by June 1892 was responsible for having designed and built 394 mills. His ‘Simon System’ could be found throughout Europe and Asia, after building a plant in Nagasaki in 1898. This heritage is continued today through the Satake Corporation who acquired the company (then called the Robinson Milling Systems Ltd. after merging with Thomas Robinson & Son Ltd.) in 1991 and as recently as April this year announced the ‘rebirth of the Henry Simon range of flour milling equipment’. Although Henry Simon may not be a household name his name beams over the equipment and industry involved in the flour making process.

Furthermore, there were numerous other men instrumental to the success of roller flour milling and the mechanisation of the process. Abraham Ganz pioneered the use of chilled cast-iron rolls in Hungary in 1870, which strengthen the roller mills, whilst Friedrich Wegmann from Naples patented his adjustable porcelain roller mill in 1874, supposedly more efficient than iron or steel rolls. Meanwhile almost a century before in America, the engineer Oliver Evans (it’s his portrait at the top) had created the production line through the use of the elevator and screw conveyor mechanising the milling process.

Every individual I have met here at the archive, both this year and last year, have added to the success of the archive but it would be nothing without the original individual founders. So too with every charity, company and process in the world. Without the Daverios, Simons, Ganzs, Wegmanns and Evans’s of this world, the processes by which we get our flour today for bread, cakes, and cereals might be very different. The work I will be doing in the coming months will hopefully give these men and their works a greater profile whilst also highlighting even lesser known figures who may have only impacted one mill. Their stories will be looked for within our collections as I strive to highlight the evolution and advancement of the flour milling world through the roller mill revolution.


  • ‘Henry Simon brand reborn’, Milling and Grain, Volume 128, Issue 4, April 2017, p.6.
  • 1899 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Henry Simon Obituary.
  • Dedrick, B.W., ‘Development of Milling and Power Transmission’, The Northwestern Miller, May 20th 1925, p.725-726 & 743.
  • From Quern to Computer: Roller Milling: A Gradual Takeover.